Robert Crosbie: The Friendly Philosopher

The following article first appeared in the December 1934 edition of Theosophy Magazine, the main monthly publication of the United Lodge of Theosophists. As has been said elsewhere on this site, it would be no exaggeration to describe Robert Crosbie as the man who rescued Theosophy. The impulse, motivation, and tireless activity which led him to eventually form the United Lodge of Theosophists (often referred to as the ULT) certainly saved the original and genuine teachings of Theosophy from the oblivion to which they had been consigned by many of Madame Blavatsky’s self-proclaimed “successors.”

The book referred to, titled “The Friendly Philosopher,” can be read online and is also available for purchase from Theosophy Company or from any ULT Lodge.

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The publication of the life-record of Robert Crosbie will be found, as time goes on, to mark a distinct stage in the progress of the Theosophical Movement of our century – that is, the cycle from 1875 to 1975, a period of three adult generations.

The Friendly Philosopher is very much more than a book, one among many, as Theosophy is very much more than a philosophy, one among many systems of thought. Robert Crosbie belonged to the first generation of Theosophists. He was but one of many, many thousands of men and women attracted to inquiry, affiliation, effort, in the Parent theosophical society. Most of those so attracted soon dropped out of the Movement, their curiosity satisfied. Of the modest percentage which remained more or less identified with the Movement in its genetic stage, the most part soon became content, either to follow up some particular line of Karmic heredity re-aroused in this life, or to fall into the passivity of satisfied faith.

With the passing of H. P. Blavatsky in 1891, the Movement entered its second distinct phase. The Teacher was gone beyond the range of human communication; there remained the Teaching placed of record by her, but the Antaskarana, the “Link” between the world of Masters and the body of Theosophists was broken. Broken – unless within the membership there were student-Theosophists who had meantime become genuine accepted Chelas, Disciples whose fidelity and understanding had been tried and tested and proved to the satisfaction of the Masters Themselves.

H.P.B. had written late in 1886, in her article, “The Theosophical Mahatmas”, that out of the general body of Theosophists several hundred had become “lay-Chelas” – that is, Fellows of the society who had adopted in full the otherwise nominal Three Objects of the Movement, and were consciously striving to become fitted for acceptance as “probationary Chelas“. Out of these hundreds, she wrote, seventy-two only had been accepted as worthy of trial under the rules and discipline provided by the Lodge of Masters for the self-guidance, the self-instruction, the self-protection of the Candidates during “the ordeal of Chelaship” – a period, so she affirmed, whose minimum duration is seven years. Of the seventy-two, she declared, three only had not hitherto failed; and of the three, only one had triumphed over all trials and become an accepted Chela.

Had Theosophists weighed, as they were amply able to do, the circumstances under which “The Theosophical Mahatmas” was written; had they measured the tremendous implications of her statements as indicated – the Parent society would have continued unbroken, the subsequent disasters would have been avoided, and the Theosophical Movement never have “been thrown into disarray,” as has been the case ever since the death of H.P.B. The seeds of disruption were present from the beginning; they had been present for a million years – ever since the separation of the Fifth Great Race from its Atlantean parent. But the tares of the race, its Skandhas, had not choked out the wheat till the commencement of Kali-Yuga, now over five thousand years ago.

The Karma of humanity is what the Masters of Wisdom have to face in dealing with the Theosophists; the Karma of humanity is what the aspirant to Chelaship has to encounter and conquer in himself if he is to be accepted by the Lodge of Masters as of Their company. How many Theosophists feel strong enough, are in earnest enough, actually and unremittingly to face the evil Karma of this single personal existence? How many go beyond the merely personal view of Karma to shoulder the burden of family, of national, of racial Karma even as precipitated in one generation – and shoulder it as their own proper debt and burden of responsibility toward all mankind, toward all Nature? How many are there whose understanding is such, whose sense of “universal brotherhood” is such, that they joyously accept as their own the Karma of all the past and all the future generations of our mankind?

To become an accepted Chela is to have envisioned all this, to have “taken the vow of service to ‘the endless end'”, to have made that vow good against the onslaughts of the whole evil Karma of mankind. This is what every Probationer has to do before he can “stand in the presence of the Master”.

All this was repeated over and over again, by H.P.B. as the direct Messenger from the Great Lodge, and by the Masters Themselves in special Messages to various Theosophists. In the light of these solemn and most weighty asseverations, he is a blind or foolish and heedless Theosophist today, who cannot see for himself the tinsel, the sham, the effrontery and the blasphemy of the scores upon scores who have announced themselves to the credulous and uninformed as “successors” to H.P.B., as Adepts, Initiates and what not. If, in the bright eleven years of the first stage of the Movement, one only actually succeeded in the “fulfilment of the Law” where hundreds might have done so, we have a measure of the problem confronting that one after the departure of H.P.B. If Masters Themselves, the lifetime work of H.P.B. among the students, the teachings she made accessible to them all – if these bore so little ripe fruit, what would happen to the whole exoteric side of the Movement when, under Law, it had to be left to itself with what had been provided from the esoteric side, plus such ripe and unripe fruit as existed?

It is to be observed that H.P.B. did not name the one successful nor the two who “had not hitherto failed”. If the best of the Fellows could not discern for themselves whom she had in mind, to have named names would have been to have set up an “esoteric authority” in the same sense that Colonel Olcott, the “President-Founder”, was the exoteric authority. There were plenty ready to accept H.P.B. as an esoteric authority, few to see in her a Teacher and so to study and apply what she taught.

Two years later, in 1888, H.P.B. formally certified in the name of the Masters that W. Q. Judge was then “a Chela of thirteen years’ standing” and that, as such, “full faith and confidence” were to be given him among those then striving in the “Esoteric Section” to fit themselves for their probation. Every member of the “Esoteric Section” knew that Judge possessed H.P.B.’s and Masters’ own “full faith and confidence”; that she accepted full responsibility for his acts as for her own. Every Fellow of the Society knew from her public statement in her first Message to the American Convention that she regarded Judge as her alter-Ego. When H.P.B. left this scene her recorded last words to the London “Inner Group” were: “Keep the Link unbroken; do not let my last incarnation be a failure.” To whom and to what did she refer?

Whom else could she have meant than Judge? What else could she have meant than that Judge, as an accepted Chela, was the only one in the “Esoteric Section” on whom the members could rely as she had relied, and as they had hitherto relied on her? What H.P.B. had to say about Judge cannot be ignored or evaded today, any more than it could then, without its corresponding consequences. If what has been said about Judge, in many quarters and by many theosophical leaders from 1894 to the present hour – if what has been asserted and believed is true, then there is no dodging the fact that H.P.B. is the real culprit; that she herself was not and is not to be trusted except with such mental and moral reservations as each one chooses to make for himself. There is no escaping the fact that H.P.B. endorsed Judge without reserve; no escaping the fact that the Masters endorsed H.P.B. without reserve; no avoiding the fact that Judge and H.P.B. are unique in these respects, if in no other. To any man who can add one and one together, there can be but one sum-total: the Masters of Wisdom are responsible for H.P.B., her Mission and her Message; H.P.B. is responsible for Judge, his mission and his message. In both cases the responsibility was publicly, freely, and repeatedly assumed – assumed by Masters in Messages to those who doubted H.P.B.; assumed by H.P.B. in messages to those who doubted Judge.

In its exoteric aspect the Theosophical Movement “rests its case” on the philosophical and moral worth of the Wisdom-Religion, the Theosophy recorded by H.P.B. Anyone can test the value of Theosophy for himself, once he has been brought into contact with it. He must do that if he is to be anything but a believer or a sceptic on hearsay. On its esoteric side, the Theosophical Movement rests its case on the self-induced and self-devised efforts, checked by their Karma, of those who may aspire to be or to become accepted Chelas. As the Movement began from the esoteric side, so its unbroken continuity depends on those, be they few or many, who work to “keep the Link unbroken” between the world of men and the world of Masters. How is that work to be carried on?

For this, there are the precept and example on both the esoteric and the exoteric sides of the Movement during all the years since 1875 – precept and example both from those who succeeded and those who failed. “But”, objects the hear-say or the sectarian, “how is one to judge?”

How is one to judge Theosophy itself? He can do so “on information and belief”, or on his own ability to study, compare, and weigh the teachings of the Wisdom-Religion with any or all other systems known to him. Theosophy was presented strictly and solely on its own merits, not as anyone’s revelation or theory. How could those merits be known at second-hand?

If accepted and adopted because of its ascertained value, then Theosophy becomes a known and actual standard by which to determine the relative merits or demerits of any and all things. If it is not an all-inclusive, all-sufficient criterion, then at once it becomes no better, if no worse, than the thousand-and-one dogmatic and theoretical standards of appraisal followed by men in general.

All Theosophists alike profess to regard original Theosophy as an impartation from the Masters of Wisdom. The Masters profess to regard it as an infallible criterion of right judgment and right conduct. They apply it first and foremost to Themselves, and thence to all men and all things. They became what They are by that path and no other. H.P.B. regarded the Masters and the Wisdom-Religion as infallible, and conducted herself accordingly. If she is to be judged by us – and judged she must be – by what standard shall her conduct be measured?

From the moment he first met her in this life, Judge appears as one who had no doubts as to her bona fides, her Mission, her Message, her unique place in the Movement – and conducted himself accordingly. In all he wrote and did there cannot be found jot or tittle to the contrary. Now that the life-record is closed of all those active in the first generation of the Movement, it is the easiest imaginable theosophical task to compare the theosophical career of Judge with any or all of the others. How many did that in their hour of choice, i.e., of probation? How many of those who came into the Movement during the second generation, now drawing towards its close, took the trouble to make an intelligent and informed comparison between Theosophy and other systems? Between H.P.B. and Judge on the one hand, and all the others publicly active, so as to be able to discern for themselves who was true to the line and who not?

The generations overlap, or there could be no continuity either in right or wrong direction. Judge died in 1896, but Theosophists who, along with him, had been active during the first generation, survived him for many years and gave the Movement direction – Mrs. Besant, Mr. Sinnett, Colonel Olcott on one side, Madame Tingley and her lieutenants on the other. How is one to judge which wing of the parent society pursued the straight and narrow path, or whether, perchance, both alike failed to “keep the link unbroken”? Is judgment to be made on the basis of the respective claims and promises of these several guides? Nothing is easier than to take any (or all) of them at his own word – and see if he kept it. They all professed entire loyalty to Masters, full faith and confidence in H.P.B., promised the most strict devotion to Theosophy and the Three Objects of the Theosophical Movement. If they were true to their own professions and promises, why the prevailing sectarianism, confusion of tongues, the bewilderment of ignorance, the multitude of conflicting and contradictory dogmas and practices – all alike claimed to be Theosophy and Theosophical?

The Friendly Philosopher, now made easily accessible to all Theosophists, shows that before the death of the Founders, Robert Crosbie, from the moment of his first contact had no doubt of Theosophy, no doubt of Masters, no doubt of H.P.B., no doubt of Judge – and that he acted accordingly. Mr. Crosbie departed earthly life in 1919, fifteen years ago. He thus survived Judge by twenty-three years, nearly to the mid-point of the centenary cycle of the Movement, and so passed through all the phases of the Movement from the period of the incipiency of the “Esoteric Section” in 1887, to 1908, twenty-one years in all, when he undertook to undo what had been done by the then numerous “occultists” who controlled the destinies of the scores of societies and groups into which the public side of the Movement had degenerated.

On the 17th of November, 1908, Mr. Crosbie sent out to as many Theosophists as could be reached, a circular letter entitled “To every open-minded Theosophist”. Three months thereafter, on February 18, 1909, he inaugurated The United Lodge of Theosophists, whose DECLARATION had been drawn up by him. Copies of the Declaration were sent to all those who had received the preliminary memorandum addressed “to every open-minded Theosophist”, and to as many more old and new Theosophists as could be located. Associated with Mr. Crosbie were seven students who had come in contact with him under Karma, as all contacts good or bad come about.

The rest is history – made and in the making. Mr. Crosbie’s share in that history is abundantly disclosed in The Friendly Philosopher. No one can read this book even casually and fail to see that here was a man devoid of self-assertion, whose whole life and being were swallowed up in single-hearted devotion to a Teaching and to Teachers of whom he had no doubt. That at no time and in no way did he do other than point to the Source whence had come his own faith, his own surety, his own self-consecration. Having gained a Theosophical education of his own his one aim and object was to put that education in service to his fellow-Theosophists of no matter what opinion or affiliation. While he lived, the United Lodge of Theosophists was devoted to the cultivation of solidarity among its Associates, and to fitting them to do by others as had been done by them. It was Mr. Crosbie’s never-dormant heart-felt longing to restore coherent unity among Theosophists “wherever and however situated”. All his labors were to that great end, and the Declaration of U.L.T. was drawn up for no exclusive group or association, but for a common-ground on which all sincere Theosophists might meet.

Mr. Crosbie has been “gone” for over fifteen years. The original seven have become more than that by many thousands of Associates. The indirect effects of his work have been a restraining influence as well as a restorative one throughout the whole area of the Theosophical Movement. The Friendly Philosopher is the friend of all Theosophists. May they come to share his faith, his devotion, his consecration.

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SOME RELATED ARTICLES: The Man Who Rescued TheosophyThe United Lodge of Theosophists, On Anonymity and Impersonality, The Commitment of the ULT, What it means to be an Associate of the ULT, The Closing Cycle, Who was William Quan Judge?, The Theosophical Society is Disloyal to Theosophy, The Four Branches of the Theosophical Movement, and the following from the writings of Robert Crosbie himself…

Is Theosophy a Progressive System of Religion?, There is No Injustice, In Memory of William Q. Judge and “In the midst of a great and silent evolution…”.

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