The Dalai Lama, Theosophy & The Gelugpa Tradition

His Holiness The Dalai Lama in November 2020, photo by Ven Tenzin Jamphel. In the background is a large portrait of Tsong-Kha-Pa, the founder of the Gelugpa Order or School of Vajrayana Buddhism, the Buddhism of Tibet.

Of the hidden, worldwide, esoteric Brotherhood which guides and watches over the spiritual evolution of humanity, its Trans-Himalayan division – often referred to as the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood, the Trans-Himalayan Lodge, and the Trans-Himalayan Esoteric School – is that branch of the Great Brotherhood most directly and closely connected with H. P. Blavatsky and the establishment of the modern Theosophical Movement.

The geographical area known as the Trans-Himalayan region is not Tibet, although it used to be referred to by some as “Little Tibet.” Nevertheless, the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood of Masters and Adepts – apparently headquartered somewhere in the region of Ladakh (see Damodar and The Hall of Initiation) – is sometimes also known as the Tibetan Brotherhood, due to having extremely close and inseparable ties with Tibet itself . . . particularly, it appears, with Shigatse, where the Tashilhunpo Monastery presided over by the Panchen Lama, is located.

The Masters’ presence in, and connection with, the nation of Tibet must surely have changed in quite a big way in the 20th century, especially since the 1950s, when Tibet was brutally invaded, violently massacred, and forcefully occupied by the Chinese, who still occupy it to this day. There is now no longer a country called Tibet on our maps. Thankfully, since the Trans-Himalayan areas known to be most connected with the Masters – such as Ladakh, Lahaul, and Spiti – are technically under the governance of India, they have remained safe from any invasion and destruction.

Alice Leighton Cleather, in her book “H. P. Blavatsky – Her Life and Work for Humanity,” says that HPB “once told us that They were preparing to move even further away from the ever-encroaching foot of the Western “invader” with his materialistic civilisation.”

The Master K.H., the Master M., Their Master the Maha Chohan, along with the great soul who was known to us as “HPB,” and all the other adepts, initiates, and chelas of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood or Tibetan Brotherhood, are connected in some way or another with the Gelugpa branch or school or stream of Tibetan Buddhism, which is the world’s most well known form of Mahayana Buddhism.

For centuries, the Gelugpas (sometimes written as Gelukpas) have had the reincarnating lineages of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama as their leading figureheads in the world.

The Gelugpas (literally meaning the “Virtuous Ones” or “Models of Virtue” and also originally known as the New Kadampas, besides being called the “yellow hats” and “yellow caps”) were founded by Tsong-Kha-Pa (1357-1419), who is viewed extremely highly in Theosophy. To the Masters this essentially equates the Gelugpas – and also Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Esoteric School (he was “the founder of the Secret School near Shigatse, attached to the private retreat of the Panchen Lama,” “the mystic Brotherhood connected with [the Gelugpa] chiefs,” writes HPB) – with being founded by Gautama Buddha himself, since they maintain that Gautama reincarnated in – not as but in – Tsong-Kha-Pa in order to rescue Buddhism from the terrible degradation that it had fallen into in Tibet under the influence of the older forms of Tibetan Buddhism.

We say that the Trans-Himalayan Mahatmas and Adepts are “connected in some way or another” with the Gelugpas because while in her article titled “Elementals” HPB speaks of “the Geluk-pas (yellow-caps), to which latter most of the adepts belong,” she speaks in another article (“Existence of The Himalayan Mahatmas”) of “our Mahatmas, who belong to no sect.”


But there is much more evidence than this of the close ties between the Masters and the highest and innermost side of the Gelugpa “sect,” as evidenced by such statements as these . . .

“We know of only one MAHATMA bearing the name of my venerated GURU DEVA [i.e. Koot Hoomi, Koothoomi, Kuthumi, or K.H.] who holds a well-known public office in Tibet, under the TESHU LAMA [i.e. Teshu Lama and Tashi Lama are alternative – and in fact now obsolete – titles for the Panchen Lama, whose main base was Tashilhunpo Monastery at Shigatse].” (Damodar K. Mavalankar in “The Theosophist” April 1884, reproduced in “Damodar and The Pioneers of The Theosophical Movement” by Sven Eek, p. 340-341)

“Tashi-Lhunpo, the capital of the Tashi Lama [i.e. Panchen Lama] (whose Master of Ceremonies one of our own revered Mahatmas is).” (Col. Henry S. Olcott, “Old Diary Leaves” Vol. 4)

“According to Theosophical statements Koot Hoomi . . . became an Adept and took up his residence in Thibet where he is relic-bearer to the Teschu-Lama [i.e. Panchen Lama].” (Details told to Richard Hodgson, compiler of the Society for Psychical Research’s report about the Theosophical Society)

While it is undoubtedly true that the Theosophical Mahatmas transcend all sects and denominations in Their great knowledge and Their Esoteric Philosophy or Secret Doctrine, it nonetheless seems that some of Them do, for reasons best known to Themselves, sometimes associate Themselves with certain religious groups or branches of religions.

An entry in “The Theosophical Glossary” by H. P. Blavatsky shows the great reverence and importance in which the Panchen Lama is held by she and her Teachers:

“Panchen Rimboche (Tib.). Lit., “the great Ocean, or Teacher of Wisdom”. The title of the Teshu Lama at Tchigadze ; an incarnation of Amitabha the celestial “father” of Chenresi, which means to say that he is an Avatar of Tson-kha-pa (See “Sonkhapa”). De jure [i.e. officially or under law] the Teshu [i.e. Panchen] Lama is second after the Dalaï Lama; de facto [i.e. in reality, even if unofficially], he is higher, . . . While the former (Dalaï Lamas) are addressed as “Jewel of Majesty”, the latter enjoy a far higher title, namely “Jewel of Wisdom”, as they are high Initiates.” (p. 247, bold added for emphasis)

Likewise, we find statements such as these in the original Theosophical literature:

“These [secret books etc.], it appears, are kept secret and apart, in the charge of the Teshu-Lama [i.e. Panchen Lama] of Shigatse.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Secret Books of “Lam-Rim” and Dzyan” article, posthumously published)

“All I was allowed to say was – the truth: There is beyond the Himalayas a nucleus of Adepts, of various nationalities; and the Teschu Lama [i.e. Panchen Lama] knows them, and they act together, and some of them are with him and yet remain unknown in their true character even to the average lamas – who are ignorant fools mostly. My Master and K.H. and several others I know personally are there, coming and going, and they are all in communication with Adepts in Egypt and Syria, and even Europe.” (Letter from HPB to Franz Hartmann, first published by William Q. Judge in “The Path” magazine, March 1896, reproduced by Sylvia Cranston on p. 83 of the biography “HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky”)

There is even a little known “Mahatma Letter” from the Panchen Lama of HPB’s time, which has been published in the “Miscellaneous Letters” section, p. 363, of the book “The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett.”

In Tibet, the Panchen Lamas were always regarded as the guardians and teachers of important secret knowledge regarding Shambhala (a subject – and place – of great importance in Theosophy) and the real Kalachakra Tantra system. Kalachakra and Shambhala (also written Shamballa) are closely and inseparably connected.

In 1927, Alice Leighton Cleather (an English Theosophist who had been one of the twelve specially chosen members of HPB’s esoteric “Inner Group” and who later went on to be the first British woman formally admitted into the Gelugpa Order) and her friend and colleague Basil Crump published a special edition of “The Voice of the Silence” (the last book published by H. P. Blavatsky and which she said was translated from a still secret esoteric Yogacharya Buddhist text known as the Book of the Golden Precepts) and they did so at the specific request of Thubten Choekyi Nyima, who was the Panchen Lama at that time. He had been born in 1883 and was thus a child of eight years old when HPB had passed away.

In the Editorial Foreword, Cleather wrote:

“The present reprint has been undertaken largely because the original edition has been out of print for many years, while those issued since H.P.B.’s death in 1891 contain errors and even, in some cases, deliberate alterations and omissions. . . . Reaching Peking in December, 1925, after studying for seven years in India, we were privileged to come into close touch with H. H. the Tashi Lama, who had left Tibet in 1924 on a special mission to China and Mongolia. As members of his Order, part of the work we undertook at his request for Buddhism was the present reprint, as the only true exposition in English of the Heart Doctrine of the Mahayana and its noble ideal of self-sacrifice for humanity. . . . All the Tibetan terms and references have been checked with the assistance of the members of the Tashi Lama’s suite, and our Chinese friends have also given us every assistance; It is with very great satisfaction that we publish this edition under the auspices of the Peking Buddhist Research Society, who recognise in it the highest and most sacred teachings of their own “contemplative” schools. It was not until we came in contact with Chinese and Tibetan Buddhists that we obtained this striking confirmation of the truth and value of H. P. Blavatsky’s work.”

The Panchen Lama wrote with his own hand a special Tibetan dedication for this edition of “The Voice of the Silence” and it was reproduced at the start of the book with the title “THE PATH OF LIBERATION.” Cleather explained in the Appendix that an English rendering of the words would be “ALL BEINGS DESIRE LIBERATION FROM MISERY. SEEK, THEREFORE, FOR THE CAUSES OF MISERY AND EXPUNGE THEM. BY ENTERING ON THE PATH LIBERATION FROM MISERY IS ATTAINED. EXHORT, THEN, ALL BEINGS TO ENTER THE PATH.”

Also included was a foreword from B. T. Chang, Chinese secretary of the Panchen Lama, who amongst other things remarked that “what is embodied in it [i.e. “The Voice of The Silence”] comprises a part of the teachings of the Esoteric School. . . . Madame Blavatsky had a profound knowledge of Buddhist philosophy, and the doctrines she promulgated were those of many great teachers.”

The current Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was abducted by the Chinese in 1995, when he was just a young child, and has not been seen or heard from since. In the worst kind of insult, however, the Chinese have sponsored and backed a “Panchen Lama” of their own, who travels the world talking about how wonderful the Chinese government is.

Due to these tragic circumstances, the Dalai Lama is today the only prominent leading figurehead of the Gelug tradition.


One could quite easily get the impression from the above quotes that the Panchen Lama is really the only esoterically important one and that the Dalai Lama is of little significance esoterically or in relation to Theosophy or the Masters of Wisdom. There are numerous other statements, however, which show that this would be a mistaken conclusion to arrive at. It certainly does seem from the “Theosophical Glossary” excerpt that the Panchen Lamas are spiritually “superior” to the Dalai Lamas. But let us take note of what is said here, since we cannot just choose certain passages and ignore or overlook others . . .

“Buddha . . . The expression that the latter “never dies” applies but to the two great incarnations of equal rank – the Dalai and the Tda-shi [i.e. Panchen] Lamas. Both are incarnations of Buddha, though the former is generally designated as that of Avalokiteswara, the highest celestial Dhyan. For him who understands the puzzling mystery by having obtained a key to it, the Gordian knot of these successive reincarnations is easy to untie. He knows that Avalokiteswara and Buddha are one as Amita-pho (pronounced Fo) or Amita-Buddha is identical with the former. What the mystic doctrine of the initiated “Phag-pa” or “saintly men” (adepts) teaches upon this subject, is not to be revealed to the world at large.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “Reincarnations in Tibet”)

Buddha . . . preferred, instead of availing himself of Nirvana, to leave his earthly form, remaining still in the sphere of the living, in order to help humanity to progress. Hence his constant reincarnations in the hierarchy of the Dalai and Teshu [i.e. Panchen] Lamas, among other bounties. Such is the Esoteric explanation.” (HPB, “The Book of Enoch”)

“And now for the Lamaic hierarchy. Of the living or incarnate Buddhas there are five also, the chief of whom is Dalay [i.e. Dalai], or rather Talay, Lama – from Tale “Ocean” or Sea; he being called the “Ocean of Wisdom.” Above him . . . there is but the “SUPREME WISDOM” – the abstract principle from which emanated the five Buddhas – Maitree [i.e. Maitreya] Buddha (the last Boddhisattva, or Vishnu in the Kalanki [i.e. Kalki] avatar) the tenth “messenger” expected on earth – included. But this will be the One Wisdom and will incarnate itself into the whole humanity collectively, not in a single individual. But of this mystery – no more at present.

“These five “Hobilgans” are distributed in the following order:

“(1) Talay-Lama [i.e. Dalai Lama], of Lha-ssa [i.e. Lhasa, the capital of Tibet] – the incarnation of the “Spiritual” “passive” wisdom – which proceeds from Gautama or Siddartha Buddha, or Fo.

“(2) Bande-cha-an Rem-boo-tchi [i.e. Panchen Rimpoche, the Panchen Lama], at Djashi-Loombo [i.e. Tashilhumpo]. He is “the active earthly wisdom.”

“(3) Sa-Dcha-Fo, or the “Mouthpiece of Buddha,” otherwise the “word” at Ssamboo.

“(4) Khi-sson-Tamba [i.e. possibly the Jebtsundamba, the head of the Gelugpas in Mongolia] – the “Precursor” (of Buddha) at the Grand Kooren.

“(5) Tchang-Zya-Fo-Lang, in the altai mountains. He is called the “Successor” (of Buddha).

“The “Shaberons” are one degree lower. They . . . are the initiates of the great wisdom or Buddh Esoteric religion.” (HPB, “Lamas and Druses” – no standardised English spellings of Tibetan words existed in HPB’s era but for some reason the quasi-phonetic variants she uses in this article are particularly incomprehensible and difficult to decipher; no-one has been able to work out so far which Lamas numbers 3-5 are referring to.)

“The five chief Bodhisattvas, or Hubilgans of Tibet, each of whom is the bodily temple of the spirit of one of the five [Dhyani] Buddhas.” (HPB, “Lamas and Druses” – the five celestial Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as the Dhyani Buddhas, are seven esoterically, according to Theosophy, the two additional ones not being mentioned in any publicly known Buddhist teachings; this may shed some light on the following quote too.)

Chutuktu [i.e. Khutuktu] (Tib.). An incarnation of Buddha or of some Bodhisattva, as believed in Tibet, where there are generally five manifesting and two secret Chutuktus among the high Lamas.” (HPB, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 85)

“This “sea of knowledge” or learning remained for ages there, where now stretches the Shamo or Gobi desert. [Note: This is a reference to Shambhala.] . . . [This] is, perhaps, a key to the Dalaï-lama’s symbolical name – the “Ocean” lama, meaning the Wisdom Ocean.” (HPB, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 502)

“Every lama is subject to the grand Taley-Lama [i.e. Dalai Lama], the Buddhist pope of Thibet, who holds his residence at Lha-ssa, and is a reincarnation of Buddha.” (HPB, “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 1, “Before the Veil” p. xxxiv)

Among the few glimpses obtained by Europeans of Tibet and its mystical hierarchy of perfect Lamas there was one which was correctly understood and described. The incarnations of the Bodhisattva Padmapani or Avalokiteshvara [i.e. referring to the Dalai Lama incarnations], of Tsongkapa, and that of Amitabha [i.e. referring to the Panchen Lama incarnations], relinquish at their death the attainment of Buddhahood, i.e., the summum bonum of bliss, and of individual personal felicity, that they might be born again and again for the benefit of mankind. . . . we [are] the humble disciples of the perfect Lamas [“these perfect Lamas” in the oldest copy of this letter] . . .” (The Letter from the Maha Chohan, the Master of the Masters of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood, also known as “The Great Master’s Letter” written in either 1880 or 1881)

“I must, therefore, ask you to accord me a few days longer when I will be quite at leisure. We have to take measures for effectually protecting our country and vindicating the spiritual authority of our Priestly King [i.e. the Dalai Lama]. Perhaps, never, since the invasion of Alexander and his Greek legions have so many Europeans stood together under arms so near to our frontiers as they do now.” (Master K.H. in a letter to A. P. Sinnett, November 1880 – the Dalai Lama at that time was the 13th Dalai Lama, the predecessor or previous incarnation of the present one)

A large part of HPB’s article “Tibetan Teachings” is attributed by her to a great Master who may well be the same as the Maha Chohan. She describes him in that article as “the Venerable Chohan-Lama – the chief of the Archive-registrars of the libraries containing manuscripts on esoteric doctrines belonging to the Ta-loï [i.e. Dalai] and Tashu-hlumpo [i.e. Tashilhumpo, Panchen] Lamas Rim-boche of Tibet.” So such libraries and their manuscripts on esoteric doctrines belonged not only to the Panchen Lama but the Dalai Lama too.

Let us now try to put some complicated details into historical perspective . . .

1. The Dalai Lama lineage begins – albeit not until quite some time after his death –with Gedun Drupa (1391-1474), a disciple – and possibly also the nephew – of Tsong-Kha-Pa (1357-1419). In 1409, Tsong-Kha-Pa established the Ganden Monastery – named after the celestial realm in which the future Buddha Maitreya is believed to reside – 25 miles from Lhasa. This is taken as equivalent to the official founding of the Gelugpas. Gedun Drupa was appointed the first abbot of Ganden, while another of Tsong-Kha-Pa’s disciples, Gyaltsab Dharma Rinchen (1364-1432), is known as the first Ganden Tripa, “Holder of the Ganden Throne,” a title conferred on him after Tsong-Kha-Pa’s death. The Ganden Tripas are actually considered the official spiritual leaders of the Gelugpa Order but it is widely accepted that nowadays this is more nominal than actual. Later in life – in 1447 and after the time of Tsong-Kha-Pa –Gedun Drupa founded the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse and became its first abbot. Khedrup Gelek Pelzang (1385-1438) was another of Tsong-Kha-Pa’s leading disciples. By the time of the death of Gedun Drupa, Gyaltsab Dharma Rinchen, and Khedrup Gelek Pelzang, there was still as yet no such thing as either the Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama.

2. Gedun Gyatso (1475-1542) was considered the reincarnation of Gedun Drupa. And Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) was considered to be Gedun Gyatso’s reincarnation. It was Sonam Gyatso who became the first Dalai Lama, in 1578. But although he was the first person to be named “Dalai Lama,” the title was at the same time bestowed posthumously on Gedun Drupa and Gedun Gyatso, the two immediately preceding incarnations of Sonam Gyatso. Thus Gedun Drupa, the disciple of Tsong-Kha-Pa, was posthumously – over a century after his death – recognised as the first Dalai Lama and Sonam Gyatso as the third Dalai Lama. There were still as yet no Panchen Lamas.

3. We now fast forward a little to the time of the fifth Dalai Lama – Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682), known as “The Great Fifth,” the first of the Dalai Lamas to become spiritual and political leader of the whole of Tibet and also the first to live in the famous Potala palace in Lhasa – it was he who first stated that his lineage were incarnations or emanations of Avalokiteshwara (also known as Padmapani and, in Tibetan, Chenrezig) and he who recognised his revered teacher Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662) as an incarnation of Amitabha Buddha, bestowing upon him in 1645 the title of “Panchen Lama,” and giving Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse to be the living place for he and his subsequent reincarnations. In Tibetan Buddhism, Amitabha is considered to be spiritually higher and more transcendental than Avalokiteshwara. This may be part of the basis for why HPB and the Masters have at times (certainly not always, as we have shown above) indicated the Panchen Lamas (viewed as incarnations of Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Boundless Time) to be spiritually higher than the Dalai Lamas (viewed as incarnations of Avalokiteshwara, also spelt Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion). This distinction of “higher and lower” is rarely, if ever, made or acknowledged in public Tibetan Buddhism, however; perhaps because, metaphysically, Amitabha and Avalokiteshwara are inseparable and neither can really be considered to have much existence without the other. Although Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen was the first person to be named as Panchen Lama, the title was at the same time bestowed posthumously on three persons who were considered his most recent three prior incarnations, namely Ensapa Lobsang Dondrup (1505-1568), Sonam Choklang (1438-1505), and someone we mentioned earlier: Khedrup Gelek Pelzang (1385-1438), who had been one of Tsong-Kha-Pa’s leading disciples; the Panchen Lama lineage therefore begins with Khedrup Gelek Pelzang.

It is therefore difficult to understand why H. P. Blavatsky says in her “Theosophical Glossary” entry for “Panchen Rimboche” that “it is Dharma Richen, the successor of Tson-kha-pa at the golden monastery founded by the latter Reformer and established by the Gelukpa sect (yellow caps), who created the Dalaï Lamas at Llhassa, and was the first of the dynasty of the “Panchen Rimboche.” Dharma Richen is Gyaltsab Dharma Rinchen who was mentioned above and although he was the first Ganden Tripa, he is never spoken of by the Gelugpas or anyone else as being in any way connected with either the Panchen Lama or Dalai Lama lineages.

Similarly, as a footnote to her article “Tsong-Kha-Pa – Lohans in China,” she states: “It is curious to note the great importance given by European Orientalists to the Dalai Lamas of Lhassa, and their utter ignorance as to the Tda-shu (or Teshu) [i.e. Panchen] Lamas, while it is the latter who began the hierarchical series of Buddha-incarnations, and are de facto the “popes” in Tibet: the Dalai Lamas are the creations of Nabang-lob-Sang, the Tda-shu [Panchen] Lama, who was Himself the sixth incarnation of Amita, through Tsong-kha-pa, though very few seem to be aware of that fact.”

As much as we dislike having to suggest that HPB was wrong about something – and we would never suggest it as regards the metaphysics and philosophy which she taught – it does indeed appear very strongly that she was mistaken in these two statements, both of which also flatly contradict one another if one looks at them closely with the aid of the details in the numbered paragraphs above. There has never been any Panchen Lama with a name resembling “Nabang-lob-Sang”; this sounds as if the abovementioned Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso is being referred to but, as we saw, he was the 5th Dalai Lama. It was however he who first recognised and helped to establish the Panchen Lamas. So it seems that in the HPB comment just quoted, she has got some of the details in reverse. Some might argue that she was disclosing the real esoteric facts of these two Lama lineages and that what the Gelugpas themselves and all historians say about it must be merely exoteric and not the whole truth. While this could of course be so – and surely is, in regard to numerous other ways in which the Theosophical account of things contradicts “history” – it is worth remembering that both “The Theosophical Glossary” and “Tsong-Kha-Pa – Lohans in China” were only published after HPB’s death and not proofread or approved for publication by her. However, she did say much the same thing as in the latter article when writing her 1882 article “Reincarnations in Tibet,” which she published in “The Theosophist.”

But there is another statement from Theosophical sources which may raise a lot of questions. T. Subba Row, a prominent Indian Theosophist in HPB’s time and a fellow chela or disciple of her Guru (the Master M.), once said:

The Himalayan Brotherhood has Buddha for its highest Chohan and Avalokitesvara for its patron. It wanted to have two men overshadowed by these two: in one they succeeded, because a portion of Buddha overshadows the Tashi-Lama [i.e. Panchen Lama]. The Dalai Lama is supposed to be overshadowed by Avalokitesvara, but really is not so.” (“T. Subba Row Collected Writings” Vol. 2, p. 422)

If this is truly the case, it stands at odds with most of what HPB has said in the various quotes we have shared above. It would also appear to stand at odds with the Maha Chohan’s Letter. What is for sure is that it is the Panchen Lama who is most consistently praised and revered throughout the original Theosophical literature, far more so than the Dalai Lama. You may also have noticed in one of the above quotes that HPB capitalises the “H” in the Panchen Lama’s pronoun, calling him “Him” rather than “him.”

But if we take HPB and the Masters as higher authorities than Subba Row – as indeed we ought to – then we can conclude that to simply dismiss the Dalai Lama would be unwise and unwarranted. Taking all the above Theosophical quotes as a whole shows us that we are not really in a position to dogmatise either for or against the spiritual and occult status of the Dalai Lama and nor should we wish to.


In 1989, Raghavan Iyer of the United Lodge of Theosophists in Santa Barbara, California, USA, arranged the publication (through Concord Grove Press, the publishers for the Santa Barbara ULT) on White Lotus Day (8th May, the anniversary of H. P. Blavatsky’s passing, commemorated annually by students of Theosophy) of a special centenary edition of “The Voice of The Silence,” HPB’s translation from the publicly unknown Book of the Golden Precepts, and Tenzin Gyatso – the present 14th Dalai Lama – wrote a foreword for it. As we mentioned earlier, a previous Panchen Lama had done something similar for an earlier reprint of “The Voice of The Silence.”

Raghavan Iyer (1930-1995) and the Dalai Lama had known each other since the early 1960s (Iyer’s “My Talk with The Dalai Lama” was published as a pamphlet by the Tibet Society of London in 1961) and now his son Pico Iyer, who is a very well known and popular travel writer, novelist, and public speaker, enjoys a friendship with the Dalai Lama and has interviewed him on several occasions (some are on YouTube) and written books about him and his work. 

Not many are aware that the Dalai Lama also wrote a foreword to the book “The Brotherhood of Religions” by Sophia Wadia (wife of B. P. Wadia, who was also very involved with and influential in the ULT), as also did Mahatma Gandhi.

We reproduce those forewords below:


Foreword to “The Voice of The Silence” centenary edition (United Lodge of Theosophists, Santa Barbara, 1989)


“I first met the members of the Theosophical Society more than thirty years ago, when I visited India to attend the celebrations of the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha. Ever since, I have had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts with Theosophists from various parts of the world on many occasions. I have much admiration for their spiritual pursuits.

“I believe that individuals can be good human beings without necessarily being spiritual. I also accept their right in not wanting to be spiritual or to believe in a particular religion. At the same time, I have always believed that inner or spiritual development is necessary for greater human happiness and to increase our capacity to benefit others. I am therefore happy to have this long association with the Theosophists and to learn about the Centenary Edition: THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE which is being brought out this year. I believe that this book has strongly influenced many sincere seekers and aspirants to the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva Path. I very much welcome this Centenary Edition and hope that it will benefit many more.”

April 26, 1989

Foreword to the reissue of “The Brotherhood of Religions” by Sophia Wadia (United Lodge of Theosophists, Mumbai, India, 1996)

“There are similarities as well as differences among the various religions, but it is not possible to make the various different religions conform to one religion. In fact if that were to happen, it would be a great loss, because each respective religion has its own qualities and values.

“The various religious traditions should be utilised for the larger interest of humanity and not be allowed to become obstacles in achieving what should be the primary objective – the well-being of the society. We should therefore look at the purpose of religion and not merely indulge in the intellectual study of it. What is important is to find the religion that is suitable to a particular person.

“Basically all the major religions of the world carry the same message. And it is extremely unfortunate when a religion is used as another instrument for more division between humanity and becomes a source of conflict. The world we live in is very interdependent. Relations with our neighbours and other nations is imperative to our survival. Under such circumstances, the spirit of pluralism, including inter-religious understanding, and the spirit of harmony is essential.

“I welcome the efforts being made in various parts of the world for better understanding among religions. Today, no one can afford to assume that someone else will solve our problems. Every individual has a responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction. Good wishes are not sufficient; we must assume responsibility. I am very happy to learn about the new edition of this valuable book: The Brotherhood of Religions by the late Sophia Wadia and congratulate the Asian Book Trust for making such publications available to the public.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama
February 9, 1996


What even many Theosophists do not know is that the Dalai Lama is actually a member of the Theosophical Society! It is an honorary life membership which he expressed a willingness to receive. Dated 11th July 2011, his membership certificate can be seen online here.

In his 2010 book “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together” the Dalai Lama wrote, “Looking back to this trip in 1956 [i.e. a trip to India, three years before he had to flee Tibet due to the ever-increasing danger from the Chinese invaders], I realize that my visit to the Theosophical Society in Chennai (then Madras) left a powerful impression. There I was first directly exposed to people, and to a movement, that attempted to bring together the wisdom of the world’s spiritual traditions as well as science. I felt among the members a sense of tremendous openness to the world’s great religions and a genuine embracing of pluralism. When I returned to Tibet in 1957, after more than three months in what was a most amazing country for a young Tibetan monk, I was a changed man. I could no longer live in the comfort of an exclusivist standpoint that takes Buddhism to be the only true religion. When tragic political circumstances in 1959 forced me into exile in India to live as a refugee, I was paradoxically offered the freedom to deepen my personal journey of understanding and engagement with the world’s faith traditions.”

Theosophists who are familiar with the writings, teachings, and work of the Masters of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood, may very understandably find it surprising that the Dalai Lama would not know about such points as he describes above until visiting the Theosophical Society in India. If he was in touch with or part of – even a leading part of – the esoteric Tibetan Brotherhood, how could he not have been exposed to such Theosophical perspectives while in Tibet? Such perspectives are not taught to the average Tibetan Buddhist but the Dalai Lama was under the private tutelage of numerous advanced Lamas and we would hope that at least some of them were in some sort of touch with the Masters. As we mentioned in The Great Tsong-Kha-Pa, the Lama Trijang Rinpoche (1901-1981), who was one of the present Dalai Lama’s tutors, is reported to have received from Pabongka Rinpoche (1878-1941) a “set of Initiations into Manjushri from the Secret Lineage of Tsongkhapa . . . Trijang Rinpoche received many profound teachings from Pabongka Rinpoche, including the oral instructions of many secret Gelugpa lineages.” These may well relate to “the Secret School . . . the mystic Brotherhood connected with [the Gelugpa] chiefs” that was established by Tsong-Kha-Pa and referred to by H. P. Blavatsky. Some of that may have been passed on to the Dalai Lama at some point.

But there are three other facets to consider:

(1) In light of what HPB reportedly told Alice Leighton Cleather and others (and which we quoted at the start) the Theosophical Mahatmas, knowing what was soon to befall Tibet, may well have ceased all residence, visits, and involvements with Tibet prior to the time of the current Dalai Lama.

(2) The Dalai Lama was only 23 when he fled Tibet and even for years before that much of his time and energy was occupied with the Chinese situation, just as much of his time after arriving in India was occupied with trying to build and hold together a nation-in-exile, so he will not have had the opportunity of the same extensive esoteric teaching and training which many of his predecessors typically had. He undoubtedly has had very extensive teaching and training, including numerous Tibetan Buddhist initiations that have been publicly referred to, but it would not have been to the same extent and degree which he would have had if China had not intruded on his country.

(3) Tsong-Kha-Pa, like Gautama Buddha himself, held very strongly that Buddhist monks and Lamas should not draw attention to any occult knowledge and/or powers which they may possess and should not exhibit or demonstrate any occult or psychic powers; their use should be careful and private. While this is not accepted in some other forms of Tibetan Buddhism, especially among the Nyingmapas, the Gelugpas take it seriously. So while the Dalai Lama certainly generally presents himself as “just a humble Buddhist monk” and tries to imply that he is really as normal and ordinary as everyone else, this should not necessarily be taken at face value. Within Tibetan Buddhism, he is considered to have mastered in his present lifetime numerous Tibetan systems of meditation, yoga (internal yoga), and esoteric development, all of which are traditionally associated with occult powers and abilities (although that is not the aim or goal of them), and, besides this, in the 2002 documentary film “Yogis of Tibet,” a yogi mentions that while he (the yogi) was living in a cave far away from civilisation, the Dalai Lama contacted him telepathically to give him certain instructions, including to come back to civilisation to help people with the knowledge he had gained from his retreat.

It may also be of interest to note that the date of 17th November, stated by H. P. Blavatsky in “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 179, to be of great esoteric significance, and which was the founding date in 1875 of the modern Theosophical Movement, was also the date chosen (in 1950) for the Dalai Lama’s enthronement as full leader of Tibet. In Tibetan tradition, the dates of such events are not chosen randomly or out of mere convenience. Tibetan Buddhism remains silent about the significance of 17th November but it seems safe to say that the Dalai Lama and/or his tutors and guardians knew something from their own esotericism of what is briefly hinted at in “The Secret Doctrine.” On that page – headed “THE BIRTH-DAYS OF THE DHYANIS” – HPB mentions Chenrezig–Padmapani–Avalokiteshwara numerous times and says:

“The knowledge of the astrological aspect of the constellations on the respective “birth-days” of these Dhyanis – Amitâbha (the O-mi-to Fo, of China), included: e.g., on the 19th day of the second month, on the 17th day of the eleventh month, and on the 7th day of the third month, etc., etc. – gives the Occultist the greatest facilities for performing what are called “magic” feats.  The future of an individual is seen, with all its coming events marshalled in order, in a magic mirror placed under the ray of certain constellations. But – beware of the reverse of the medal, SORCERY.”

In an introduction to the 1989 centenary edition of “The Voice of The Silence” and also in a March 1989 article in “Hermes” magazine titled “The Sacred Flame: Message of Tsong-Kha-Pa,” Raghavan Iyer mentions that in 1984 the Dalai Lama visited and spoke at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, which had been founded by Raghavan and Nandini Iyer, and which is connected with the Santa Barbara United Lodge of Theosophists. In the short article “The Sacred Flame” we read: “Through the Panchen and Dalai Lamas, the sacred flame of pristine Teaching was safeguarded and transmitted to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who blessed and instructed the United Lodge of Theosophists, Santa Barbara, on October 27, 1984 . . . The would-be traveller on the bodhisattva’s Secret Path must nurture the seed of enlightenment, bodhichitta, activate the spiritual will to strive for universal redemption, and fuse wisdom and compassion through discriminative insight and calm contemplation upon “the voidness of the seeming full, the fullness of the seeming void,” [i.e. a phrase from “The Voice of The Silence”] upon Silence and Serenity.”


It would not be right to complete this article without pointing out that the Dalai Lama endorses something which HPB and her Adept-Teachers make clear repeatedly is black magic and to be assiduously avoided, namely sexual tantra. We should emphasise that there is absolutely no account or evidence that the Dalai Lama has ever practised such things himself but he has nonetheless spoken openly and quite casually about it, as if it is a normal part of the Tibetan Buddhist system. And sadly, it is a normal part of Tibetan Buddhism, including in the Gelugpa tradition, where it is predominantly treated as a semi-secret practice (its existence is no secret but its instructions are) typically reserved for Lamas who are deemed advanced enough on the Bodhisattva Path to be able to engage in sexual magic “responsibly.”

It is something of a mystery as to how, when, and under whose influence this became an accepted part of the Gelug school, since even the Dalai Lama’s older brother Thubten Jigme Norbu very clearly wrote in his 1968 book “Tibet: An Account of the History, The Religion & The People of Tibet” (republished for the last time in 1982) that Tsong-Kha-Pa was not in favour or support of the sexual tantric practice that so greatly characterised Tibetan Buddhism and that he taught and inculcated for the Gelugpas a non-sexual, non-sensual system of occult development, which is exactly what H. P. Blavatsky also maintained – roughly 80 years earlier – about Tsong-Kha-Pa’s approach. The Dalai Lama’s brother’s words in this regard are quoted in our article The Great Tsong-Kha-Pa.

If one is to believe the present day Gelugpa Lamas, Tsong-Kha-Pa was always a teacher and proponent, if not practitioner, of sexual tantra (albeit allegedly often advising Jnanamudra, tantric union with a visualised/imagined female consort or a Dakini – this is the type of sexual tantra which numerous Gelugpas say was engaged in by Tsong-Kha-Pa – but allegedly also endorsing Karmamudra, tantric union with an actual physical woman) and from the very beginning this was an accepted part and parcel of the Gelugpa system. If one believes HPB and her Adept Teachers – and also the Dalai Lama’s older brother – this could by no means have been the case. It is also instructive to see what HPB explains Dakinis to be, in “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 95 and “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 285, 271.

In some of his bestselling books, the current Dalai Lama has said:

“A practitioner who has firm compassion and wisdom can make use of sexual intercourse in the spiritual path as a technique for strongly focusing consciousness and manifesting the fundamental innate mind of clear light. Its purpose is to actualize and prolong the deeper levels of mind in order to put their power to use in strengthening the realization of emptiness. . . .  How does sexual intercourse help in the path? Since the potential of grosser levels of mind is very limited, but the deeper, more subtle levels are much more powerful, developed practitioners need to access these subtler levels of mind. . . . Due to this, sex is utilized. Through special techniques of concentration during orgasm competent practitioners can prolong very deep, subtle, and powerful states and put them to use to realize emptiness. However, if you engage in sexual intercourse within an ordinary mental context, there is no benefit.

“The father of the late Serkong Rinpochay was both a great scholar and an accomplished practitioner. He was from Ganden Monastery [i.e. the main Gelugpa monastery founded by Tsong-Kha-Pa and mentioned earlier in this article] . . . but his main lama, Trin Ngawang Norbu, was in Drepung Monastery west of Lhasa. So, Serkong Rinpochay’s father used to stay in Lhasa and every day early in the morning made the long trek to Drepung . . . One night, Serkong’s father met a girl and lost his vows [i.e. he broke the vow of celibacy required of Gelugpa monks during the Sutrayana stage, the Paramitayana or Bodhisattvayana stage of development which precedes the Tantra of Vajrayana]. Regretting this very much, the next morning he tearfully went to Drepung [i.e. which is another main Gelugpa monastery], but . . . the Teacher, Trin Ngawang Norbu, said, “You have relapsed, but that is right. Now you should practice tantra with a consort.” That in itself was unusual, but, even more extraordinary was that after the consort’s death the mantra of the goddess Vajrayogini was manifest right in her skull bone. . . .

“During this period the Thirteenth Dalai Lama [i.e. the current Dalai Lama’s direct predecessor or previous incarnation] conducted an investigation into which lamas were authentic and expelled quite a number of them, but he made an exception for . . . Serkong Rinpochay’s father . . . In this way he officially recognized their extraordinary ability and special right to use a consort in the practice of Tantra.” (“Mind of Clear Light: And Living a Better Life” p. 176-179)

“Vajradhara appears in just the way that the trainee should meditate when using afflictive emotions such as lust or hatred in the process of the path. To corral such powerful emotions into the spiritual path trainees cannot be imagining that they have the peaceful body of Shakyamuni Buddha. Deity yoga is required. . . . The same is true for sexual yoga; trainees who are capable of using the bliss arising from the desire involved in gazing, smiling, holding hands, or union must perform the appropriate deity yoga; they could not be imagining themselves as Shakyamuni, a monk. For Buddhists, sexual intercourse can be used in the spiritual path because it causes a strong focusing of consciousness if the practitioner has firm compassion and wisdom. Its purpose is to manifest and prolong the deeper levels of mind, in order to put their power to use in strengthening the realization of emptiness. Otherwise, mere intercourse has nothing to do with spiritual cultivation. When a person has achieved a high level of practice in motivation and wisdom, even the joining of the two sex organs, or so-called intercourse, does not detract from the maintenance of that person’s pure behavior. Yogis who have achieved a high level of the path and are fully qualified can engage in sexual activity, and a monastic with this ability can maintain all the precepts. One Tibetan yogi-adept, when criticized by another, said that he ate meat and drank beer as offerings to the mandala deity.” (“How To Practise: The Way to a Meaningful Life”)

From these quotations, it may at first appear as if the Dalai Lama is actively recommending such practices to his general readership or audience but we ought to clarify that in other books he emphasises that only a very small number of advanced, pure-minded, and well-disciplined Lamas and practitioners “ought” to engage in “sexual yoga” and related exercises.

“Tantra” itself is not a bad word and merely means “continuum” or “expansion.” In one sense it can be looked upon as a synonym for practical occultism. Theosophists sometimes speak of the Book or rather Books of Kiu-Te or Khiu-Ti, having seen HPB and the Masters refer to them, but probably very few Theosophists realise that the term “Kiu-Te” (or “rgyud sde” in Wylie transliteration) is simply the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit word “Tantra.” The Books of Kiu-Te are therefore literally the Books of Tantra. And Tantra is not always something sexual. HPB states that there is such a thing as “white tantra” which is of the nature of white magic, and such a thing as “black tantra” which is the opposite. However, sexual tantra – which is part of black tantra, in the Theosophical view (see, for example, the entry for “Tantra” in “The Theosophical Glossary”) – is even an aspect of some of the publicly available translations of Tsong-Kha-Pa’s writings and in light of what is presented in the article The Great Tsong-Kha-Pa we feel justified in presenting the not implausible view that this was written into his writings after he had left the scene and not written by him. One should not assume that the published and accessible translations of Tsong-Kha-Pa’s works are entirely the “real thing” or that they give the whole picture. H. P. Blavatsky has directly stated (again, in quotes in the article just linked to) that they do not.

Does the fact of the Dalai Lama’s endorsing such things make him a Dugpa, a black magician? From the Theosophical perspective, it certainly seems very unwise and misguided of him to have done that but it is also unwise and misguided to go around accusing people of being Dugpas, perhaps especially when the religious office and position they hold is one which has been spoken of with such reverence and import by H. P. Blavatsky and the Masters Themselves . . . and also when oneself may hardly be an epitome of purity. In the Dalai Lama’s case it is perhaps best to reserve judgment but, at the same time, to not simply forget all about the matter as if it has never happened, because the fact remains that it has.

An online article titled “The Gelug Tradition” by Miranda Adams says:

“Often portrayed as quite conservative both doctrinally and politically, there survives in the Gelug tradition a serious tension between the inclusion [and rejection] of officially proscribed teachings. The 5th Dalai Lama famously repressed the Jonang tradition and forcibly converted a number of Jonang, Kagyu, and Nyingma monasteries. Nevertheless many Dalai Lamas and other prominent Gelug hierarchs have engaged in non-Gelug teachings and practices. This has led to a backlash from more conservative members of the tradition, most visibly in the controversy over the deity Dorje Shugden (rdo rje shugs ldan). This Gelug protector deity is embraced by many Gelug followers, said to be charged with keeping the tradition pure (that is, purging the Gelug of those who embrace other, primarily Nyingma, teachings). Seen by many as an attack on the Dalai Lamas from within the tradition, worship of this deity is discouraged by the current Dalai Lama, who, since going into exile and taking on the role of leader of the Tibetan people, has embraced an ecumenical position unacceptable to more conservative-minded Gelug hierarchs.”

This touches upon the Dorje Shugden controversy which has proved very divisive and schismatic within the Gelugpas since the last few decades of the 20th century and has caused the Gelug tradition to be very fractured, with some now rejecting the present Dalai Lama as a spiritual authority. The New Kadampa Tradition founded by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is the most famous example of this. We will not explore that here but quote the above because the Dalai Lama’s great openness to and acceptance of all forms or schools of Tibetan Buddhism may be seen by some Theosophists as one sign of his having distanced himself from what appears to be the position of the Masters of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood.

In the 1970s, the Dalai Lama issued a statement that “the teachings of these schools can be used without any contradiction whether one practices the way of the Sutra or that of the Tantra, or with both together. Though there are many schools of Buddhist thought in Tibet, the differences between them are only superficial, and there is no schism within the system as is to be found in Christianity.” One might ask why, if this is true, Tsong-Kha-Pa even bothered to establish the Gelugpas in the first place! Why go to the tremendous effort and labour of establishing a new system and emphasising how it differs from the others if “the differences between them are only superficial”?

Nonetheless, all biographical accounts of the life and spiritual journey of Tsong-Kha-Pa himself – including accounts from his own personal disciples – show that prior to establishing the Gelugpas he studied seriously, respectfully, and at length, with advanced Lamas from various other Tibetan Buddhist schools, including the Nyingmapas that had been founded by Padmasambhava and which is often viewed as akin to the polar opposite of the Gelugpa approach and attitude to things. His main inspiration was seemingly always the original Kadampa tradition established by Atisha (see The Great Tsong-Kha-Pa) but he apparently did not confine himself to that in either his studies or his meditative and tantric practices.

On the other hand, Theosophical accounts of his life do not mention any such thing. Although Theosophical accounts do not deny it and do not actually attempt to give more than a very brief and partial summary of his life in just a few sentences, one could easily get the impression from the original Theosophical literature that Tsong-Kha-Pa had almost the opposite approach to the older forms of Tibetan Buddhism, especially the Nyingmapas. There are features of Theosophical statements about Tsong-Kha-Pa which stand contrary to all that has so far become publicly known about his life and work, perhaps most notably HPB’s statement in “The Theosophical Glossary” that Tsong-Kha-Pa “being unable to witness any longer the desecration of Buddhist philosophy by the false priests who made of it a marketable commodity, put a forcible stop thereto by a timely revolution and the exile of 40,000 sham monks and Lamas from the country.” Tibetan tradition and history, not even amongst the most ardent Gelugpas, does not make any mention of such a revolution and mass exile. The numerous things said about Tsong-Kha-Pa in Theosophy are profoundly esoteric, while what is said about him by Tibetan and academic sources is profoundly exoteric. To arrive at the complete and most accurate picture, one may need to somehow merge the two together, whilst also sifting out a lot of exoteric inaccuracies and obscurations. But it would take an initiated, advanced, highly knowledgeable disciple of the Masters – if not a Master himself or herself – to be able to do that and They most likely do not consider such a task as being of pressing urgency when humanity is faced with infinitely bigger and more important issues.

The article The REAL Esoteric Buddhism shows how the open-minded and attentive student of the original Theosophical literature will catch from it unmistakable glimpses into a vast and intricate system of Esoteric Buddhism whose very existence, let alone doctrine and practice, remains unknown to the world. And this is how it must be for the time being. What we call the real Esoteric Buddhism is shown in Theosophy to pre-date Tsong-Kha-Pa and the Gelugpas and all the Panchen and Dalai Lamas by long ages, although it was – and possibly still is – connected with them. The Trans-Himalayan Esoteric School spoken of in Theosophy is in actuality Gautama Buddha’s own Esoteric School, preserved and perpetuated by the original and historically unknown Aryasanga, founder of the Esoteric Yogacharya School which pre-dates the publicly known (but now extinct) Yogacharya or Yogacara School by nearly a thousand years. All this is gone into in the article just linked to as well as articles linked to at the end of it.

This is one of numerous reasons why we consider it unnecessary and largely inadvisable for Theosophists to become Gelugpas or “convert” to Tibetan Buddhism, although it is certainly valid and useful to study and learn about Gelugpa and other Tibetan Buddhist teachings.

Both in H. P. Blavatsky’s era and occasionally today, some people suggest or propose that, in light of the Masters’ connections with Tibet and the Trans-Himalayan region and also with the Gelugpas, it would be good for the Theosophical Movement to merge and unite with – or even humbly surrender itself to! – the religion of Buddhism. Those who have such ideas are often not familiar enough with Buddhism to have realised that Buddhism (whether Tibetan or any other type) has many more differences with Theosophy than similarities. But here is what HPB herself had to say on this point:

“Just because present-day Buddhism is in need of being regenerated and disencumbered from all the superstitions and restrictions which have invaded it like parasites, we would be quite wrong in trying to graft a young and healthy shoot on a branch which has lost its vitality, even though it be less withered than some other branches. It is far wiser to go at once to the root itself, to the unalterable and pure source whence Buddhism itself has drawn its powerful sap. We can enlighten ourselves directly with the pure “Light of Asia”; why then should we linger among its deformed shadows? In spite of the synthetic and theosophical character of primitive Buddhism, present-day Buddhism has become a dogmatic religion, and has fragmented itself into numerous and heterogeneous sects. The history of this and other religions is before us as a warning against half-measures. . . . the essential attitude of the Theosophical Society is to declare and maintain the Truth common to all religions, the real Truth, unsoiled by the inventions, the passions, and the requirements of the ages, and to invite all men to partake of it, without distinction of sex, colour or rank, and, which is much more, of beliefs. . . . And if man is tired of symbols and ceremonies which the priest never explains, while deriving handsome benefits from them, it is not by substituting bonze chapels for our own that we will shake off this torpor. The time has come when all the bells have the same sound: the sound of boredom. To pretend reinstating the religion of Buddha on the ruins of that of Jesus, would be like giving to a dead tree the support of a dried up stick.” (“Theosophy and Buddhism”)

When speaking about Tibetan Buddhism, she sometimes used still stronger words:

“The field of exoteric and official Buddhism of the Churches of both North and South, those of Tibet and Ceylon, is covered once more with parasitic weeds.” (“Misconceptions”)

“Since the reform produced by Tsong-ka-pa, many abuses have again crept into the theocracy of the land.” (“The Theosophical Glossary” p. 185, Entry for “Lama”)


The “Theosophical Glossary” entry for the Gelugpas themselves (p. 126-127) reads:

Gelukpa (Tib.). “Yellow Caps” literally; the highest and most orthodox Buddhist sect in Tibet, the antithesis of the Dugpa (“Red Caps”), the old “devil worshippers”.”

The Trans-Himalayan Mahatmas quite frequently made mention in Their letters, to Theosophists such as A. P. Sinnett and A. O. Hume, of the Dugpas, the Red Caps, the Red Hats, the Shammars, the red-capped Brothers of the Shadow, and so on.

Although “Dugpa” is sometimes used in Theosophy as a generic term for a black magician, a practitioner of evil or harmful occultism, HPB and the Masters tend to use the term most specifically when speaking of followers and adepts of black magic practices in Tibet, the Trans-Himalayan region (once known as “Little Tibet”), and nearby countries such as Bhutan and Sikkim. The ending “-pa” in a Tibetan name or word means “man” or “person.” As “Dug” is the Tibetan word for “poison” and “harmful,” it is understandable why such individuals would be termed “Dugpa”!

When Tsong-Kha-Pa established the Gelugpas and inculcated their usage of yellow hats and caps, he made visually clear that there was indeed a significant distinction between his group and the older and already established branches of Tibetan Buddhism, such as the Nyingmapas, Kagyupas, and Sakyapas, all of which used and still use red hats. The Bhons or Bons – the indigenous religion of Tibet and which has close links with Padmasambhava’s Nyingma school/tradition – also use red hats.

Whilst, potentially, black magicians belonging to any of those four sects could be called Dugpas, it is the Nyingmapas and the Bhons who are specifically identified and named as Dugpas in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky. (See “Reincarnations in Tibet” and “The Voice of The Silence”) If one researches the Dharma Raja who she speaks of at some length as a major Dugpa in her article “Reincarnations in Tibet” one sees that he (Ngawang Namgyal, 1594-1651) belonged to the Drukpa (not the same word as Dugpa, even though they may sound similar to Western ears) lineage of the Kagyu or Kagyupa school.

But there are a few important things to be aware of, as we conclude this article:

(1) The Gelugpas themselves also sometimes wear red ceremonial hats and apparently have done so since soon after, or even during, the time of Tsong-Kha-Pa, so it would be mistaken to form the assumption that “Red hat in Tibetan Buddhism = bad.”

(2) Although HPB describes the sect of the Bhons as “a pre- and anti-Buddhistic one” and most frequently associates them with the term “Dugpa,” she nonetheless clarified in her article titled “Elementals”: “We must beg the reader not to misunderstand us. For though the whole of Bhûtan and Sikkim belongs to the old religion of the Bhons, now known generally as the Dug-pas, we do not mean to have it understood that the whole of the population is possessed, en masse, or that they are all sorcerers. Among them are found as good men as anywhere else, and we speak above only of the élite of their Lamaseries, of a nucleus of priests, “devil-dancers,” and fetish worshippers, whose dreadful and mysterious rites are utterly unknown to the greater part of the population.”

(3) Although, as we read above, the “Great Fifth” Dalai Lama “forcibly converted a number of Jonang, Kagyu, and Nyingma monasteries,” he nonetheless counted Nyingmapa Lamas among his greatest teachers and gurus; similarly, numerous Dalai Lamas over the centuries have had Nyingmapa, Kagyupa, and Sakyapa Lamas as spiritual instructors. This does not appear to have been so prominent or prevalent among the Panchen Lamas but the 8th Panchen Lama – who was Panchen Lama at the time the Theosophical Society was founded – was from a Nyingma family.

(4) In a “Mahatma Letter” to A. P. Sinnett, the Master K.H. speaks of having recently been “in the neighbourhood of Pari-Jong, at the gun-pa of a friend, and was very busy with important affairs. . . . I was just crossing the large inner courtyard of the monastery; bent upon listening to the voice of Lama Tondhub Gyatcho.” Pari-Jong, nowadays standardised in spelling as Paro Dzong, is an area of Bhutan, and its monastery is Rinpung Dzong Monastery, also known simply as Paro Dzong Monastery. This is, and has always been, a Drukpa–Kagyu monastery. As mentioned above, HPB has associated the Drukpas with the Dugpas, although she never implies them to be synonymous. The fact that the Master K.H., so closely associated with the Panchen Lama and the inner side of the Gelugpas, would visit a Drukpa-Kagyu “Red Hat” monastery and count a Lama there as his friend, indicates that there was never such a complete and unequivocally sectarian distinction in the minds of the Masters and HPB between the Gelugpas and all the other forms of Tibetan Buddhism as one might initially assume.

(5) As mentioned in The Great Tsong-Kha-Pa, one almost entirely unknown group within the Gelugpas is the Kuthumpas, literally “followers of Kuthumi” or Koothoomi, i.e. of the Master K.H. Long believed to have been merely a “theosophical invention,” the Kuthumpas surfaced publicly in the early 2000s, in France and online, but after a few years disappeared again from public view and all public knowledge, with the exception of certain areas of the Trans-Himalayan region such as Ladakh, Lahaul, and Spiti, where their existence has never been a secret, even if not especially well known. Our article Kuthumpas not Kadampas refers to them. The Kuthumpa website, which now no longer exists, seems to have gone unnoticed by most Theosophists, but, relevant to this present article, it showed that (a) The Kuthumpas are indeed affiliated with the Gelugpas and express reverence and respect towards the Dalai Lama, and (b) Rather than viewing all other branches of Tibetan Buddhism as inherently bad or untouchable, they were endeavouring to raise funds for the reconstruction of the “monastère de TAYUL (lahaul-ladakh),” i.e. the Tayul Monastery in the Lahaul–Ladakh area of the Trans-Himalayan region. And this Tayul Gompa or Monastery belongs to the Drukpa–Kagyu lineage or school of Tibetan Buddhism which we have mentioned; it houses one of the world’s largest statues of Padmasambhava, the founder of the Nyingmapas, who are also some of those who come under the category of “Dugpas” Theosophically, as stated earlier.

All this should show us that as students of Theosophy who do not yet have the full and broad vantage-point of the Masters of Wisdom, we are in no position to condemn or denounce even the “Red Hats,” let alone the Dalai Lama (who can deny the huge amount of good he has done for a huge amount of people, nor the tremendous pressure of trying to hold together a nation-in-exile?) and nor should we desire or seek to engage in condemnation and denunciation. We can of course critically point out, in a constructive and helpful manner, those things that are clearly and undoubtedly wrong and which are of a questionable or harmful nature and we have done some of that in this article. And non-condemnation of the “Red Hat” sects does not equate to an approval or friendly tolerance of true Dugpas or black magicians . . . besides which, the simple fact of being a Gelugpa is in itself no guarantee against being or becoming a Dugpa. Similarly, a Theosophist by name is not necessarily a Theosophist by nature!

Until we are in possession of the full picture of things, let us remember this advice from “The Voice of The Silence,” without which we can never even hope to gain possession of the full picture:

Be humble, if thou would’st attain to Wisdom.

Be humbler still, when Wisdom thou hast mastered.


This article may have raised more questions about various things. Please make use of the site search function (the magnifying glass symbol at the top of the page) and visit the Articles page to see the complete list of over 300 articles covering all aspects of Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement. If you enjoyed this article, you may be particularly interested in those listed on the Articles page under the headings BUDDHISM AND TAOISM and THE MASTERS.

A few articles closely related to this one include The Great Tsong-Kha-Pa, The REAL Esoteric Buddhism, “The Voice of The Silence” – An Authentic Buddhist Text, The Secret Book of Dzyan, Self, Non-Self, Emptiness & Voidness in Buddhism and Theosophy, and Is Theosophy Hinduism, Buddhism, or Something Else? We also recommend some of the articles about Gelugpa figures that were published in the Santa Barbara ULT’s “Hermes” magazine (edited by Raghavan Iyer) and written from a combination of the Theosophical and historical perspectives, such as Tsong Kha Pa (1), Tsong Kha Pa (2), Fifth Dalai Lama, First Panchen Lama, Fourth Panchen Lama, and Seventh Dalai Lama. These can also be found in the two volumes of “Teachers of The Eternal Doctrine,” published by Theosophy Trust.

~ ~