Author: K. Paul Johnson Publisher: The NEURAL SURFER Publication date: January 1997
E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to go back to the home base now.
STRAIN AT A GNAT, SWALLOW A CAMEL: A Reply to Daniel Caldwell's Criticisms by K. Paul Johnson Madame Blavatsky aroused passionate debate during her life and has continued to be a topic of controversy ever since. It should come as no surprise that a new theory about her can arouse intense feelings in a readership polarized by decades of rancorous argument. Nevertheless, I have been surprised and dismayed by the outrage some Theosophists have expressed toward my books, which are fundamentally friendly and positive in their approach. My sympathy for Theosophy caused the books to be dismissed as "pious" and "deferential" toward Blavatsky in a recent article by a non-Theosophist. For several years, Daniel Caldwell has been denouncing my writings about Blavatsky and her Masters, and now his objections are published in a booklet and on-line. Responding to his criticisms provides me a welcome opportunity to address many points of misunderstanding. "NOTHING MORE THAN A HOUSE OF CARDS" The phrase "nothing more than a house of cards" conveys the dilemma of any author attempting to reconstruct the past from fragmentary and labyrinthine evidence. When the subject is a person who deliberately concealed some elements of her past and exaggerated others, this dilemma intensifies. The author has to evaluate conflicting evidence and work around frustrating gaps in the record. At one level, "house of cards" accurately describes every attempt to explain Blavatsky, whose life remains mysterious despite the efforts of generations of biographers. But at another level, the phrase conveys wishful thinking and a destructive attitude on the part of persons leveling the accusation. My response will explore both of these levels of meaning. The crucial question here is how solidly constructed my books are compared to other "houses of cards" that have been built to explain HPB. Mr. Caldwell's critique fails to address the great majority of the evidence presented in my books in support of the identifications of Ranbir Singh and Thakar Singh as the primary prototypes for Morya and Koot Hoomi respectively. This violates the very standard he sets forth in his critique: "Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can-- if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong-- to explain it," in the words of Richard Feynman. Mr. Caldwell ignores most of the details on which my arguments are based, but concludes that my hypotheses are "highly implausible and dubious when carefully scrutinized in light of all [sic] the known facts." By failing to scrutinize most of the known facts cited in my arguments for the identifications in question, he leaves the reader quite unprepared to evaluate his conclusions. Therefore I offer this synopsis of the major evidence presented in my books concerning Morya and Koot Hoomi's identifications, in the order in which it appears: 1. In *Caves and Jungles of Hindustan*, HPB portrays an adept called "Gulab-Singh" as the chief sponsor and companion of the TS Founders in their Indian travels; he is the Rajput ruler of a small native state, called a Thakur in most references but a raja and prince in others. In a letter to Prince Dondukov-Korsakov, HPB identifies Gulab-Singh as Morya. Her tales of meeting him in London in her youth, which appear in *Caves and Jungles* and *HPB Speaks*, are variations on similar stories about Morya appearing elsewhere. Ranbir Singh was the most important Rajput ruler who sponsored and supported the TS Founders in their travels and activities; his father was named Gulab Singh. 2. In *Old Diary Leaves* Olcott describes *Caves and Jungles* as heavily fictionalized, but also describes Gulab-Singh as a real adept known to him and HPB. He gives no indication that Gulab-Singh and Morya are the same person, unlike the HPB letter cited above. This is relevant to points in Mr. Caldwell's critique discussed below. 3. According to *Isis Unveiled*, HPB visited Ranbir Singh's kingdom in her youthful travels, passing from Kashmir to Leh, Ladakh (part of his domain). She calls Ladakh "central Tibet" which suggests that as of 1877 her familiarity with Tibet was quite limited. 4. In an entry in Olcott's diary, HPB noted that Edward Wimbridge had brought her a copy of the *London Illustrated News* which contained "Holkar's and Some One's portrait, among others." The volume containing a portrait of Maharaja Holkar of Indore, a TS sponsor, also contains a portrait of Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Kashmir, among those of other native rulers. Ranbir Singh is the only one with major ties to the TS, which suggests that he was "Some One." HPB's reverence and evasiveness indicate that she is referring to some important Master figure that she is reluctant to name in the diary. 5. HPB's least-known book *The Durbar in Lahore* gives a lengthy, detailed description of Ranbir Singh and his entourage. It portrays the main objective of her and Olcott's trip to Lahore as meeting Ranbir and some Punjabi Sikhs including Maharaja Bikram Singh of Faridkot. 6. In the preface to *Isis Unveiled* HPB refers to "influential correspondents" in Kashmir and other places, indicating that there was some connection with important persons in that kingdom prior to her departure from New York for India. 7. In a letter from K.H. to Sinnett, Ranbir Singh is called "the prince first on the programme" for support of the *Phoenix* newspaper venture that was to be edited by Sinnett under the Masters' guidance. 8. In May 1883, a supplement in *The Theosophist* described a visit to Jammu by supporters of the Indian Patriotic Association, who had an audience with Ranbir Singh and his sons. Among them was "D. Nath Bawaji," the alleged chela with multiple aliases; Ranbir Singh treated him with special hospitality and warmth. After the death of Ranbir Singh, Bawaji (usually spelled Babaji) rebelled against HPB and disappeared from Theosophical history. 9. In a letter to Sinnett, HPB says that Ranbir Singh "sent for" Olcott to visit him in the Fall of 1883, and that K.H. ordered him to go to a certain pass. Thus Olcott's travel plans were being guided jointly by the orders of Ranbir Singh and K.H., according to HPB. 10. In his *Old Diary Leaves* description of his stay in Jammu, Olcott describes Ranbir in extremely favorable terms, as a "thoughtful Vedantin, well acquainted with philosophical systems" who "fully believed in the existence of living Mahatmas." 11. Damodar Mavalankar, who had vanished from Ranbir Singh's guest house and was gone for three days, returned reporting that he had left there with K.H. to go to an ashram of the Masters. He later identified this ashram as being "within His Highness' Dominion." 12. In an article written later, Damodar said that Ranbir Singh "not only believed in the existence of the HIMALAYAN MAHATMAS, but seemed sure of the fact from personal knowledge." 13. Ranbir Singh was a chief financial sponsor of the Punjab University, which was deeply influenced by the Singh Sabha, an organization with ties to the TS Founders. Thakar Singh Sandhanwalia, my nominee for K.H.'s primary prototype, was the founding President of the Singh Sabha. 14. Ranbir Singh was a profoundly religious ruler, a Hindu who was very supportive of scholarship in Buddhist and Islamic texts as well as those of his own faith, and a social reformer with ideals similar to those of Swami Dayananda Sarasvati's Arya Samaj, with which the TS leaders were loosely allied at the time of the Lahore durbar. A summary paragraph in *The Masters Revealed* explains the crucial elements of the evidence presented thus far: There were two points in the history of the TS at which the Masters Morya and Koot Hoomi appeared as solid historical personages rather than elusive semi-ethereal beings. At both of these points, the same triangular configuration is apparent: the Founders of the TS, the Maharaja Ranbir Singh, and an Amritsar Sikh Sirdar are found working in collusion. In October and November 1880, the Founders' trip to the Punjab to meet these figures coincided with the beginning of the Mahatma correspondence. In November 1883, Olcott's trip to Lahore and Jammu again involved Punjabi Sikh Sirdars and the Maharaja of Kashmir. Several factors distinguish the quality of this evidence from the alleged visits *to* the TS Founders *by* M. and K.H. cited as counterevidence by Mr. Caldwell. It is far more feasible to follow known people making documented journeys to known locations by known means than to follow unknown persons making undocumented journeys by unknown means which are allegedly miraculous in some cases. I have followed HPB and Olcott to Northern India and determined as best I could whom they met there and why (having literally retraced their steps when possible); I welcome and invite alternative explanations of these journeys and relationships. But instead Mr. Caldwell offers only "evidence" which is entirely useless in identifying prototypes for M. and K.H., which in some cases sounds more like apparitions or stage magic than normal encounters, and which therefore is more truly a "house of cards" than anything I have proposed. If he and others of like mind were to offer in print the explanation of the evidence which they prefer to mine and the reasons they find it more credible, readers would be in a position to evaluate alternative "houses of cards." As things stand, my critics are silent as to their own explanation of the evidence and concentrate on attacking mine, perhaps on the principle that the best defense is a good offense. There is more evidence supporting the identification of Thakar Singh Sandhanwalia as a prototype of K.H. than there is concerning Ranbir Singh and Morya. Summarizing that presented in *The Masters Revealed*: 1. In April 1878, HPB wrote an article entitled "The Akhund of Swat" which included a glowing encomium for Sikhism. This referred to Sirdars, each of whom was chief of one of twelve misls. She added that Sikh Sirdars had secret councils consisting of learned gurus, some of whom were "Masters in Spiritual Science...[who] exhibited astounding miracles." 2. In *Caves and Jungles* HPB describes an acquaintance who is an Akali or temple functionary, an Amritsar native, named Ram-Ranjit-Das, who has a spiritual link to Gulab-Singh. 3. In *Old Diary Leaves* Olcott describes "one of the Masters" who meets him at the Amritsar Golden Temple where he is "figuring among the guardians." 4. HPB, in a letter reproduced by Richard Hodgson in his report, wrote to Moolji Thackersey about a Sikh friend of the TS that Moolji had presumably described in a letter, commenting "You call him a Sirdar" and adding that "he is of Amritsar." She inquires about finding descendants of Ranjit Singh, and asks Moolji to recruit rajas and maharajas to the TS. Thakar Singh was a Sirdar from Amritsar, a relative of Ranjit Singh, and an associate of several rajas and maharajas with TS links. 5. The first letter from K.H. to Sinnett dates from October 1880, the month in which the TS Founders visited Amritsar en route to the Durbar in Lahore. 6. An early K.H. letter was dated from "Amritas Saras" (the Golden Temple) and refers to `greasy' Tibetans and Punjabi Singhs" as "our best, most learned and holiest adepts." 7. The Sikh reform organization the Singh Sabha, founded in Amritsar by Thakar Singh and others, shared many objectives with the Arya Samaj of Swami Dayananda, and worked cooperatively with it. Ranbir Singh also endorsed much of the Arya Samaj reform program, and was very supportive of the Singh Sabha. HPB initially portrayed Dayananda as affiliated with M. and K.H., but changed her attitude later. 8. HPB's *The Durbar in Lahore* includes detailed descriptions of Amritsar, the Golden Temple, and Sikhism, and describes a Lahore meeting with Ram-Ranjit-Das, who takes HPB and Olcott to the Maharaja of Faridkot. This maharaja was a Singh Sabha member and strong supporter of Thakar Singh in later political plots. 9. The same work includes lengthy discussion of the deposed Maharaja Dalip Singh, in which HPB denounces his conversion to Christianity and shows great sympathy for his widowed mother. Thakar Singh was later instrumental in Dalip's reconversion to Sikhism. 10. In November 1883, Olcott went to Lahore en route to Jammu, at the joint invitation of Ranbir Singh and K.H. according to HPB's letter to Sinnett. In Lahore he was visited in the flesh by K.H., accompanied by another Master, as were William T. Brown and Damodar Mavalankar according to the testimony of all three. 11. According to the January 1884 supplement to *The Theosophist*, Olcott, Damodar and Brown were transported to their quarters by conveyances provided by "Raja Harbans Singh and other Sirdars." These quarters were the site of the visit by K.H. described above. 12. At a reception welcoming the group to Lahore, they were greeted by Sirdar Dayal Singh Majithia of Amritsar and Bhai Gurmukh Singh, both important colleagues of Thakar Singh in the Singh Sabha, as well as a commissioner deputed by Maharaja Ranbir Singh. 13. Thakar Singh was the cousin of the deposed maharaja Dalip Singh, and in early 1883 decided to go to England to visit him on family business. But as of November 9 he was still at home and writing to the lieutenant-governor of the Punjab attempting to get permission for the trip. Sometime in the summer of 1884 he arrived in London, where Sinnett had relocated. 14. K.H., in a letter to Sinnett during the collapse of the *Phoenix* venture, sounded a note of patriotic desperation, saying he was "bound to devote the whole of my powers as far as the Chohan will permit me to help my country at this eleventh hour of her misery." 15. Another letter from K.H. appealed to patriotic motives repeatedly, commenting that "In the presence of his country perishing in its nationality for want of vitality, and the infusion of fresh forces, the patriot catches at a straw." 16. Within two years Thakar Singh embroiled his cousin Dalip in a patriotic scheme involving a plot to restore him to the throne with Russian and French support. This was regarded as beginning the liberation of all India from British rule. 17. K.H. had referred to a "dark satire" in the phrase "jewel in the crown" and HPB had called British rule "that curse of every land it fastens itself upon"-- in the very letter where she welcomed the friendship of the Sirdar and expressed hope of finding a descendant of Ranjit Singh. 18. In an April 1884 letter to Alexis Coulomb written in Paris, HPB said in reference to the Mahatmas that "*there is one here now and there will be also in London*." This was during the period when Thakar Singh was attempting to go to London. 19. Olcott received an unsigned letter saying that "unless you put your shoulder to the wheel yourself Kuthumi Lal Singh will have to disappear off the stage this fall." Later the same month of June 1883, two more Mahatma letters came to Olcott, recommending that he "put your whole soul in answer to A.P.S. [Sinnett] from K.H." and that he "Be careful about letter to Sinnett. Must be a really *Adeptic* letter." This coincides with the period when Thakar Singh decided to leave India. 20. In 1896 Olcott toured the Punjab again. On their first evening in Lahore, he and his companion Lilian Edger dined at the home of Sirdar Amrao Singh, described as a "pillar of strength in our Lahore branch." Amrao Singh had been a conspirator in the plot to restore Dalip Singh to the throne, lending a servant for Thakar Singh's use in delivering secret letters to various maharajas appealing for support. 21. On the same trip they were visited by Bhai Gurmukh Singh, who had become the greatest figure in the Singh Sabha movement, after beginning his career as a protege of Thakar Singh and his colleagues. 22. Dayal Singh Majithia, another Sirdar who welcomed Olcott, Brown, and Damodar to Lahore, was present at the TS convention for 1884 which led to the forming of the Indian National Congress. Dayal Singh supported Thakar Singh's anti-British schemes, although Gurmukh Singh opposed them. This sketches the "house of cards" as it stands at the close of *The Masters Revealed*, save for the fact that HPB later wrote Sinnett a letter revealing inside knowledge of the Dalip Singh conspiracy. Her Russian editor Katkov was a chief conspirator as well, although HPB may not have known this. In what sense is it fair to call these fragments of evidence a house of cards? They certainly do not constitute conclusive proof of the hypotheses offered, but this is made abundantly clear in the book. The implication of Mr. Caldwell's phrase, however, is that the pieces of evidence are themselves flimsy, and that the construction is such that removal of one causes the whole structure to collapse. Most of the evidence cited above is not flimsy; it is derived from historical records, Theosophical and otherwise, the reliability of which has not been seriously questioned heretofore. When I do cite Mahatma letters, the most historically questionable sources, it is in reference to specific times, places and names related to information in other sources. While there is room for doubt about reliability of those sources, they are by no means as dubious as literature that was written deliberately to create a particular impression in support of a particular agenda. That is a crucial qualitative difference between this evidence and that which I reject as disinformation, as explained in the following section. But more importantly, the pieces of evidence for my identifications of Morya and Koot Hoomi are by and large independent of one another. Theosophical orthodoxy on the Masters, on the other hand, *does* rely on a domino-like series of suppositions, starting with the belief that HPB and Olcott consistently told the truth about them. This is implicit in Mr. Caldwell's arguments, which portray me as arbitrarily choosing which evidence to regard as credible based on what supports my own hypotheses. He gets the cart before the horse, however, since judgments about the credibility of various evidence *led to* the construction of the hypotheses. I did not start this investigation with a set of beliefs to be defended. If Theosophists like Mr. Caldwell assume that I did so, it may be because this is their own approach to the data and that of previous writers on the subject of the Masters. GUILT AND INNOCENCE The backbone of Mr. Caldwell's argument is that I am guilty of a variety of authorial sins great and small. Faced with his barrage of blame, I will focus on the highlights of each section of his critique, responding to charges that are particularly crucial but trying to keep the length reasonable. My books are far from perfect, and some of his objections are well-founded. But the level of outrage Mr. Caldwell conveys at my few faux pas betrays a fierce blame that is essentially moral and spiritual rather than scholarly. In my concluding remarks on Theosophical orthodoxy I will explore the reasons for the disproportionate blame and outrage my books have aroused in Mr. Caldwell and others. PART I Mr. Caldwell expresses some confusion as to whether my hypotheses about Morya and Koot Hoomi are a "suggestion," as I express it in one place and Joscelyn Godwin also puts it, or whether I claim to have presented a "persuasive case." He misreads the passage which states that HPB provided enough information to make "a persuasive case" for identifying them with Ranbir Singh and Thakar Singh respectively. I never claimed to have *presented* a persuasive case; the passage in question simply meant that the evidence in Blavatsky's writings was persuasive enough *to me* that I felt obliged to offer these hypotheses as *suggestions* in my books. "Persuasive" is an extremely subjective term, and I would never have imagined that Theosophists of a certain mindset would find any amount of evidence persuasive concerning the Masters' prototypes. On the other hand, many non-Theosophists have been convinced by my books that Ranbir Singh and Thakar Singh are persuasive enough as prototypes to prove that Morya and Koot Hoomi are not *entirely* fictional, as has long been assumed outside Theosophical ranks. As to my claiming to have proved to the satisfaction of many scholars my "thesis concerning M. and K.H.," again Mr. Caldwell misreads the intended meaning. In this passage from an Internet posting, I simply stated that *if* many scholars were satisfied that I had proven Morya and Koot Hoomi to be fictionalizations of *other people* this would not detract from the truth of HPB's spiritual teachings. My impression from feedback received is that most readers are persuaded of the fictionalization hypothesis-- that M. and K.H. are based on real people but that HPB's characterizations of them are not historically accurate. This is not the same as claiming that most readers are persuaded about the specific status of Ranbir Singh and Thakar Singh as prototypes; I myself remain unsure of the extent to which M. and K.H. are based on these prototypes, on other people, or on HPB's literary imagination. Mr. Caldwell accuses me of omitting or downplaying evidence that shows deficiencies in my hypotheses. I suspect this is true of all authors on the subject, but cannot help wondering if any writers on Blavatsky are *less* guilty of it than I. To cite only recent authors, neither Sylvia Cranston on the orthodox side of the fence nor Peter Washington on the skeptical side show nearly as much appreciation for ambiguities in the evidence as I have. Nor do they or comparable writers show any respect for or interest in opposing views. Repeatedly my books admit to the tentativeness of the conclusions offered, which is a real innovation in literature about Blavatsky. Yet I am denounced by Mr. Caldwell and Dr. Algeo (in *The American Theosophist* and *Theosophical History*) as deceptively claiming a certainty that is unjustified by the evidence. In light of the books such as Ms. Cranston's that they cite as exemplary, I cannot help doubting their fairness and objectivity. I repeatedly and explicitly proclaim the ambiguity of the evidence and the tentativeness of my conclusions, yet get blamed for being a "true believer" in my own hypotheses by Theosophists who show themselves to be *real* true believers in attitude and action. Something strange is happening here, and I can only conclude that it is related to projection. I invite readers to survey the entire body of literature attempting to explain HPB's relations with the Masters, and name a book that is less dogmatic in approach than mine. In the case of an alleged visit by Master Morya to Olcott on July 15, 1879, described by the Colonel in his diary, Mr. Caldwell asks "And if the real flesh and blood Morya was at Bombay on that particular July day while Maharaja Ranbir Singh was residing in Kashmir, cannot one reasonably conclude that Ranbir Singh has `no connection' whatsoever to the Master Morya?" An assumption is buried in this question, and it is at the heart of Mr. Caldwell's criticisms. This is that there is *one* "real flesh and blood Morya" rather than several. Should we assume that all stories told about Morya are in fact about the same person? In fact, this is logically impossible, as shown in this passage from *The Masters Revealed*: HPB told at least four distinct versions of her acquaintance with the Master she met in her youth in London. In *Caves and Jungles of Hindustan* he is "Gulab-Singh," the Hindu ruler of a small Central Indian state. According to this version, her first contact with him after their London meeting was through a letter he sent her in New York over twenty years later. The most frequently repeated story was that M. was a Buddhist living in Tibet where she studied with him for a long period in the late 1860s. But in yet another variation, she wrote to Prince Dondukov-Korsakov that her first contact with him after their London meeting was a letter he sent her in Odessa many years later, directing her to go to India. In this version, she never once saw the Master although he directed her itinerary by mail for more than two years. They were reunited at last in Yokahama, Japan, where he had summoned her from New York. Finally, HPB wrote to her Aunt Nadyezhda that her Master was a Nepalese Buddhist living in Ceylon, with whom she had renewed acquaintance via a letter he wrote her in New York. With four mutually contradictory versions of the same character, all that can be concluded is that most if not all of HPB's stories about him were false. It would be more accurate to say that the conflicting Morya stories cannot be true *and* about the same person, although they may contain true bits and pieces about several. But Mr. Caldwell, Dr. Algeo and other Theosophical critics seem quite unwilling to face the obvious and undeniable truth revealed by the above passage. Either HPB manufactured most of these stories about Morya, allegedly her personal Master, out of whole cloth, or she combined stories about several different prototypes in different versions to different people. In light of this clearcut evidence, Mr. Caldwell's argument that one story about Norya which cannot plausibly be about Ranbir Singh proves that the maharaja has "no connection whatsoever to the Master Morya" is extremely naive. His failure to address any of the major evidence on which I base my identifications is presumably due to his belief that this is unnecessary since he can come up with conflicting details elsewhere. But according to my composite model, conflicting details can be drawn from other prototypes or from imagination, and do not permit us to ignore the rest of the evidence. Like Frederick Crews in the New York Review of Books, Mr. Caldwell mistakenly assumes that I "accept the accuracy and truthfulness of Olcott's account" of his meeting with Ooton Liatto and friend. To cite a story without comment is not to endorse its accuracy, and I have strong doubts about rain being made to fall inside a room. I would presume, however, that Olcott really met two men, one of them at least a Cypriot, and wrote about it to C.C. Massey. Beyond that, one can only guess what might have really happened during the visit and what role Olcott's suggestibility may have played. Since HPB mentioned in her scrapbook that the Cypriot Hilarion was in New York at the same time, this led me to hypothesize that Olcott's "Ooton Liatto" was the same person. Mr. Caldwell asserts that I "assume the accuracy of this 1875-76 account by Olcott even when there is no other evidence to confirm it." In fact, as he comments in his own previous paragraph, HPB also noted the visit of Hilarion at the same time and place, which is supporting evidence. Both of these pieces of evidence, a private letter and a private scrapbook entry, are less likely to be disinformation than is material designed for public consumption, as the testimonies concerning Morya and K.H. in Tibet and Sikkim were. The time factor also weighs in favor of the reliability of the evidence, since in 1875 and 1876 there was not an elaborate and well-publicized body of claims about Mahatmas to be justified and defended, as there was after 1881. Mc. Caldwell makes a false accusation in his account of our correspondence concerning Olcott's diary entry about the visit of Morya to Bombay on August 4, 1880. By 1993 I had condensed *In Search of the Masters* to about a third of its former length, and had long since deleted the speculation that Jamal ad-Din was the Master described in *Old Diary Leaves* as visiting at that time. I wrote this to Mr. Caldwell when he informed me of the diary entry giving the name of the adept in question, which he appears to have forgotten. When he writes "Had I not provided him with that crucial piece of evidence, would Johnson have repeated the incident in *The Masters Revealed* with the same speculation that this Mahatma was Afghani?" I can answer with a definite no. Proof of this can be seen in the manuscript of *TMR* which had already been submitted to SUNY Press at the time. More to the point is the philosophical issue at hand, when Mr. Caldwell writes "And if it is unlikely that this Adept is the Maharaja of Kashmir, then is it not fair to suggest that Johnson's hypothesis concerning Ranbir Singh/Morya is also unbelievable?" The answer to this question, as before, is "Only if one assumes that all references to Morya are in fact accurate *and* refer to the same historical person." I have shown that this cannot possibly be so in the case of HPB's references to this Master; why should one expect Olcott to be any more consistent and reliable? Particularly so when we consider the question of "Gulab-Singh" being equated with Morya by HPB but portrayed as a different adept by Olcott. We are truly in a hall of magic mirrors, in which simplistic assumptions are bound to mislead. Mr. Caldwell simplistically assumes that testimonies about the Masters by HPB and Olcott must be either totally true or totally false. This assumption underlies his entire assault on my work, and does not withstand scrutiny. It is worth mentioning at this point that I traveled to India for six weeks during research for my first book, which was then under consideration by Theosophical Publishing House-- Wheaton. That publisher took a year before rejecting the manuscript. During that year, after traveling halfway around the world, I was refused access to Col. Olcott's diary and other contents of the Adyar archives by TS President Radha Burnier. Her message was that I could not have archives access because there was no archivist on duty. Meanwhile, three other researchers there at the same time, working on less controversial topics, were provided archives access. Mr. Caldwell chided me later for not considering the evidence of that diary, but never offered to let me see a copy or explain how he obtained one. Had I been given the opportunity to examine it by Mme. Burnier or Mr. Caldwell, I would have given much attention to its contents. To this day I have yet to see it. In his reference to my description of Olcott's account of meeting a Master at the Golden Temple, Mr. Caldwell notes that I assume this to be the same character described by HPB in *Caves and Jungles* as Ram-Ranjit-Das, also a Sikh aristocrat with a role at the temple. He is quite right, as I was indeed guilty of making an unjustified assumption since the passages could be referring to two different people. On the other hand, until Mr. Caldwell explains the difference between "figuring among the guardians" and "being one of the guardians" I stand by my interpretation of the phrase. Moreover, I absolutely do not assume that these passages refer to Thakar Singh Sandhanwalia, as is proven in the very passage in which Mr. Caldwell accuses me of that. How could I write "One might find dozens of names to choose from" while assuming that the passages refer to a particular person? I very explicitly made the point that I offer only a hypothesis, that other candidates are possibilities, but that there are reasons to consider Thakar Singh the most likely. This is one of several cases where my world of infinite shades of grey gets caricatured by translation into Mr. Caldwell's world of black and white. This is further seen in his argument that I "accept the accuracy and truthfulness" of Olcott's and Blavatsky's accounts "at face value" in some places, which "delights" him, but not others. This is a misreading. To accept their relevance as evidence that is probably true is quite another matter. At any rate, here we again find the heart of Mr. Caldwell's implicit argument, which is that the Mahatma letters as well as the statements of Olcott and Blavatsky about the Masters must all be accepted as gospel truth, or all be rejected as lies. His intense hostility toward my work, combined with his near silence about anti-Theosophical writers, suggests that he is not nearly as offended by total rejection of Theosophical claims as he is by a selective evaluation of the evidence. But the responsibility of any historian faced with a body of confusing and internally contradictory information is to *weigh* his sources, which I have done. When I discount the portion of K.H.'s letter of October 29, 1880 in which he refers to crossing over to Ladakh on his way home from Tibet as "disinformation" there is a reason why passages in the same letter about his spending time with HPB in Amritsar are taken as more plausible. This is not because I have some attachment to the Punjab or aversion to Tibet, as Mr. Caldwell might guess. There are abundant reasons for regarding references to the Punjab and Kashmir in the Mahatma letters and the writings of HPB as primarily historical, while suspecting the references to Tibet as being primarily fictional. These will be discussed below. In his passage about the visit of Olcott, Brown and Damodar to Lahore, Mr. Caldwell states that I "believe Olcott's testimony at face value." Not quite; for example I have strong suspicions about how a message formed in the palm of Olcott's hand. Furthermore, Mr. Caldwell's passage "Of course, it was Thakar Singh" is a total misrepresentation of the spirit of my work; the passage in question contains no such words. I have simply stated that Thakar Singh is, to date, the most likely candidate I have found. What I do contend is that a visit occurring during a journey that is well grounded in historical evidence, documented by three witnesses who portray the Master as arriving and departing in a quite corporeal manner, is much more solid evidence relevant to identifying K.H. than is found elsewhere in Theosophical literature. Furthermore, the coincidence of Olcott, Brown and Damodar spending their days in Lahore in the company of Sirdars and Singh Sabha leaders, then receiving nocturnal visits from Koot Hoomi and Djual Kul, suggests a link between the Singh Sabha and these Masters. The following week, the same kind of Mahatmic contacts continued while the three travelers were in Ranbir Singh's palace, suggesting a similar link with him. That does not mean that any evidence can be accepted or rejected at face value; only weighed in comparison to other evidence as more or less credible and relevant. On pp. 14-15, Mr. Caldwell notes that I mistakenly identified W.T. Brown's pamphlet *Some Experiences in India* as having never been published before, and took this as implying that is was possibly withheld under orders of HPB and Olcott. This was indeed a careless mistake, resulting from reading elsewhere about a work by Brown that was never published and confusing the two. PART II In his case for evaluating all claims by Col. Olcott about the Masters by a single standard, Mr. Caldwell cites a letter in which Olcott reported being awakened from sleep in Ceylon in 1881 by Morya, who made him take dictation for an hour. He then goes on to describe a case where Morya "showed himself" to Olcott and HPB, and an "appearance" by Morya before six other people. All of these are equated with the Ooton Liatto case, which is much more clearly one of *physically* present people conversing with Olcott. But Mr. Caldwell does not seem to recognize that these "appearances" sound more like paranormal visitations than normal physical visits. How can he assume that such appearances, if genuine, were not Ranbir Singh, since he does not know whether or not the maharaja was capable of such phenomena? What does he know of other people who were, who might therefore be more plausible candidates for the Morya in these stories? This section of his argument shows naivete in conflating different categories of evidence. The principle which seems to elude Mr. Caldwell is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. My explanation of HPB's relationship with the Masters relies on ordinary factors and is based on ordinary historical evidence. Mr. Caldwell is defending extraordinary claims about HPB and the Masters, on behalf of which he cites evidence of a far more dubious and ambiguous kind. PART III Mr. Caldwell speculates that I attempt to cast doubt on the testimony of S.R. Ramaswamier concerning his encounter with Morya solely because this conflicts with my hypothesis about Ranbir Singh. This is quite untrue, since Ramaswamier could have met *someone* posing as Morya even if the primary prototype for the Mahatma was miles away. The primary reason for considering the testimony fraudulent is internal, in the amazingly sophisticated and elaborate article allegedly written by Ramaswamier to describe it. His own son concluded that the story involved deception somehow. Mr. Caldwell makes a very dubious reading of the Mahatma letters to Ramaswamier, for example the one in which Morya writes "Every one must know he is my chela, and that he has seen me in Sikkim..." which to him means that Ramaswamier in fact believed in Morya's existence *and* that he had met him in Sikkim. The gist of my argument in *Initiates of Theosophical Masters* is that Ramaswamier indeed believed in the reality of Morya, and was participating in a fraud designed to simultaneously prove his existence and mislead the public about his location. The letter in question indicates that the journey had a specific propaganda purpose designed in advance. Caldwell asks "Does it make any sense that Ramaswamier would be receiving Mahatmic letters with such advice [as to `remember I am with you'] when (according to Johnson) Ramaswamier knew that he had himself lied about his encounter with Morya in Sikkim?" Indeed it does make sense, in light of the evidence that Ramaswamier, Damodar, Pillai, Babaji and Mohini all believed in (or indeed knew of) the reality of the Mahatmas, wanted to help prove it, and were willing to use deception in order to mislead the public. I can only ask readers to read the relevant portions of *Initiates* in order to make their own evaluations. Mr. Caldwell asks "why isn't Johnson willing to accuse Olcott... of being a liar and HPB's confederate, too?" The answer is that of course I am, as should be obvious. It escapes me how Mr. Caldwell can in one section denounce me for suspecting Olcott of forging a Mahatma letter to Sinnett, and in a subsequent section blame me for not suspecting Olcott of being a liar and confederate. But he seems to mean something quite different by "liar" than I do. Liars are not necessarily people who never tell the truth, as some skeptical writers about HPB seem to assume. They may lie for strategic reasons, and according to my study of the evidence both HPB and Olcott had abundant reasons for lying about the Masters. The challenge for the historical researcher who lives in a world of myriad shades of grey rather than simplistic black and white is to determine when people are lying and when they are telling the truth, and why. Olcott did not lie all the time, and wanted to convey to the world his genuine conviction of the reality of the Masters. But he sometimes was obliged to lie in order to protect their privacy, just as HPB was. My conclusion about truthtelling and lying by Olcott is the same as about HPB; both wanted to tell as much of the truth about the Masters as they could without risking their exposure to the public. Finally, the main factor which makes the Ramaswamier testimony and the rest of the Sikkim story less credible than Olcott's and HPB's tales of meeting the Masters in the Punjab and Kashmir is contextual. There is abundant historical evidence of the Founders' contacts in northwest India, as well as HPB's literary familiarity with Hinduism and Sikhism at the time the Mahatma letters were written. What comparable evidence is there from this period concerning contacts with Tibetan Buddhism? HPB's writings do not demonstrate any persuasive familiarity with Tibetan Buddhism until some years later. Several scholars in the field have commented on the entirely unconvincing nature of the claims in the Mahatma letters regarding Tibet. In *Initiates* I cite the conclusions of Alexandra David-Neel on this subject; as a leading scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and a former Theosophist her testimony is particularly relevant. PART IV In this section, Mr. Caldwell says that my conclusion concerning the Tibetan cover story about Morya and Koot Hoomi is an "invention" used to explain away any evidence or testimony contradictory to my hypotheses about them. In fact, well before I reached any hypotheses about Ranbir Singh and Thakar Singh, the Tibetan claims made by HPB had impressed me as highly suspicious and a likely cover story concealing the real location of the adepts. This was a theme of several other researchers in the 1980s, including Ian Brown, an initiate into Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhism, and Robert Gilbert, a respected esoteric historian. My paper at the 1986 Theosophical History Conference was devoted to this theme, but the focus was then Sufi connections rather than Hindu maharajas or Sikh reformers. Mr. Caldwell also assumes for some reason that I "want" to believe that Mohini's investigation into Tibetan "Koothoompas" was bogus, not believing me able to reach conclusions that are not what I want to believe. In fact, my Theosophical beliefs were repeatedly challenged in the course of research and writing, and I reached many conclusions that were not particularly welcome. Mohini's short-lived affiliation with the TS and his later total repudiation of it led me to doubt the extent to which he was sincerely persuaded by his own "investigation"; the Mahatma letters to him do have a questionable tone, as in "Make it as strong as you can." Mr Caldwell's point is well taken, however, concerning the unlikelihood that Mohini would concoct testimony using the names of prominent friends and relations as witnesses. But whether or not the peddler and Brahmacharin were genuine witnesses themselves is the more important question. No other evidence of "Koothoompas" having come to light, their testimonies remain suspicious and possibly staged. PART V Here Mr. Caldwell provides ample evidence to associate the name "Kashmir" with Koot Hoomi rather than Morya, and points out my careless mistake concerning the drawing by HPB which I took to show only one adept but in fact shows two, "Morya" and "Kashmere." My mistake was in taking the central drawing for a second depiction of Olcott (his higher self, perhaps) rather than a portrait of an adept. Their identical beards in the two drawings led to that error. Mr. Caldwell's research in Olcott's diary and other sources I did not consult both clarifies my error and raises another question. "Kashmir" was a standard way of referring to Maharaja Ranbir Singh (as seen in a Mahatma letter, illustrating the general practice of calling maharajas by the names of their kingdoms) and Judge was being told that a Master "Kashmere" was one of the secret sponsors of the TS. Olcott's diary identifies K.H. with "Kashmir," a name that was generally kept secret. Even though other evidence makes Ranbir Singh seem more related to Morya than Koot Hoomi, Mr. Caldwell's research points out a link between the name "Kashmir" and the latter adept. This is presented by him as conclusive proof of my scholarly ineptitude and the falseness of my hypotheses. But another look at his findings from a different perspective shows them to be supportive of my approach. In the world of Olcott and HPB, one adept name is sometimes found shading into another without any clear sense of what is happening behind the scenes. The lines between "John King" and "Serapis" are not entirely clear, while both "Sahib" and "Maha Sahib" seem to refer to Serapis in some places but not others. If the name "Kashmir" was being bandied about privately as the secret name for one of the two main Indian Mahatmas sponsoring the TS, this is significant evidence for the possibility that the historical person known as "Kashmir" was one of those hidden sponsors. If this indicates confusion between the personae of Morya and Koot Hoomi, that is not in itself fatal to my hypotheses. Only in Mr. Caldwell's orthodox worldview do all references to the same Mahatma have to be taken as accurate references to the same historical person. If Morya and Koot Hoomi are both composite characters, as I maintain, they can overlap without any crisis resulting for my hypotheses about their primary prototypes. Mr. Caldwell has spent at least three and a half years hunting for "numerous serious mistakes and inaccuracies" in my three books, and has come up with five minor errors to which I will freely admit: one misreading of an illustration and its captions, one case of assuming that two passages refer to the same person when they might not, one question expressing suspicion about the meaning of a phrase in a Mahatma letter which on further inspection seems unjustified, one date that was three days off, and one case of confusing the publication history of one work with that of another by the same author. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. None of these mistakes bears any weight in the total argument, and if all the passages containing them were removed the books (over 800 pages collectively) would be half a page shorter and substantively unchanged. Therefore the "house of cards" analogy, in Mr. Caldwell's destructive meaning, does not withstand scrutiny. The rest of his charges amount to a refusal to acknowledge any basis for weighing different testimonies about the Masters and judging some as less credible than others, insisting that all be taken at face value. PART VI Here Mr. Caldwell attempts to read my mind, saying that "Johnson wants to believe that Das gave certain Tibetan manuscripts to Blavatsky," and later calling my admitted speculations about this possibility "assertions." He goes on to say that "the Master M., coming to visit HPB and Olcott at Bombay, *does not* and *cannot* exist in Johnson's own version of Theosophical `reality.'" My version of Theosophical reality is open-ended and ever-changing, so it hardly constrains my thinking in the way that Mr. Caldwell's version appears to contrain his own. In fact, I have no particular reason to prefer one explanation to another concerning who came to Bombay that day, or about how Blavatsky's writings became so much better informed about Tibetan matters in the last ten years of her life. But in the latter case it makes more sense to look at events during those years for an explanation; if she had acquired such information years before why are her early writings so ill-informed about Tibetan Buddhism? There are coincidences of timing between Das's trip to Tibet and HPB's remarks about access to the "Chohan Lama" which led to my proposing the hypothesis that the latter is a name for the Sengchen Tulku, Das's host in Tibet. But this is only a possibility, and others exist; I have no strong feelings in the matter. As for Mr. Caldwell's questions about why I consider the quoted passages from HPB and K.H. about the visit to Sikkim to be disinformation, and why various claims about M. and K.H. living in Tibet appear to belong to the same category, I offer two compelling reasons. These are both mentioned in *Initiates* but perhaps the import of these pieces of evidence was insufficiently stressed. In a letter to Mary Hollis-Billings written in 1880, HPB wrote that the home of K.H. was "in Little Tibet [Ladakh] and now belongs to Kashmir." She added that Morya frequently stayed at this house. Along the same lines, Damodar wrote to Judge that he had made an astral journey to K.H.'s house at "the upper end of Kashmir at the foot of the Himalayas." He went on to describe the "Chief Central Place" where the "Great Hall" is located, containing the "Chief's Throne" where "all those of our section who are found deserving of initiation into the Mysteries have to go for their final ceremony." This was alleged to be in "an open plane in L----h." Was the home of K.H. in Ladakh, Kashmir, or Shigatse? HPB tells Hollis-Billings Ladakh, but tells Sinnett and Hartmann Shigatse. Damodar tells Judge it is in Kashmir. Was the headquarters of the Masters in Ladakh or Tibet? Damodar tells Judge one thing in 1884, but Mohini writes another in *The Theosophist* the very same year. Such discrepancies suggest that whatever the truth of the matter, Theosophical claims about Tibet are riddled with disinformation. THEOSOPHICAL ORTHODOXY'S HOUSE OF CARDS In three books that consist overwhelmingly of historical and biographical information, the number of real errors Mr. Caldwell has found in three and a half years of searching is miniscule. I wish the mistakes were nonexistent, but feel confident that if Mr. Caldwell were to apply the same pedantic scrutiny to any other three books on Theosophical history he would find at least an equal number. (Far more, in the most successful recent book on the subject, *Madame Blavatsky's Baboon*.) My work was rejected by Theosophical University Press (after ten months consideration), Theosophical Publishing House (after a year) and Point Loma Publications (after a year). None of these publishers, despite the long waits involved, offered me a single substantive criticism of my research or any of my hypotheses. It cannot be said that I failed to make a sincere effort to have my works scrutinized and corrected by Theosophical authorities. Since I became a Theosophist in 1978, there have been (according to the OCLC database) 585 books published about Theosophy. Some of these are reprints and translations of existing books, but many are new releases. Among those discussing the Masters were Marion Meade's *Madame Blavatsky: the Woman Behind the Myth*, Peter Washington's *Madame Blavatsky's Baboon*, Gregory Tillett's *The Elder Brother*, and Bruce Campbell's *Ancient Wisdom Revived*, all of which assume or imply that HPB's Masters are entirely mythical. In another category were Jean Overton Fuller's *Blavatsky and Her Teachers*, Sylvia Cranston's *HPB*, and Noel Richard-Nafarre's *Madame Blavatsky ou la reponse du Sphinx*, all of which assume that HPB's claims about the Masters are entirely reliable. In yet another grouping are Elizabeth Clare Prophet's *The Great White Brotherhood in the Culture, History, and Religion of America* and Benjamin Creme's *The Reappearance of the Christ and the Masters of Wisdom*, whose authors allege that the Masters of HPB are currently communicating through them. Finally, there is Joscelyn Godwin's *The Theosophical Enlightenment*, which basically shares my perspective on the Masters as fictionalizations of real people, but does not dwell on the topic or endorse specific hypotheses about various Masters. Of all the recent books discussing HPB and her Masters, *The Masters Revealed* was the only one attacked vigorously (in two lengthy and scathing reviews) by John Algeo, the president of the Theosophical Society in America, similar in tone to Mr. Caldwell's diatribe. *The Theosophist* of Adyar, edited by TS international president Radha Burnier, ran a non-review by Dara Eklund entitled "The Masters Revealed" which never acknowledged the book's existence overtly, but implicitly pronounced its goal of historical identifications chimerical. And, of course, my book is the only one to receive years of relentless nitpicking from Mr. Caldwell. Finally, I am the only Theosophical author who has been denounced as "pious" and "deferential" toward HPB in the pages of a prestigious literary journal. What is going on here? Why does my work make so many people so angry or fearful? Why has Mr. Caldwell devoted such passionate effort to discrediting my work, at the same time that he promotes as reliable almost every other book on Theosophical history produced by Theosophists? More puzzling to me, why does he virtually ignore the large body of works that are hostile to Blavatsky and dismissive of the Masters' existence, while spending years publicly bombarding me, a basically friendly Theosophical author, with blame and disdain? During the last three and a half years that I have been regularly attacked by Mr. Caldwell, these questions have arisen again and again, and they remain perplexing. One likely incentive suggests itself: Mr. Caldwell has ingratiated himself with Theosophical orthodoxy by leading the charge against my work. Since he and John Algeo have emerged as the chief denouncers of my books, Dr. Algeo has announced that under his editorship Theosophical Publishing House will reprint Mr. Caldwell's compilation of laudatory accounts of HPB. Theirs is to be the official party line (in which criticism of HPB is minimized) whereas my work is to be the officially repudiated "house of cards." The behavior of Mr. Caldwell and Dr. Algeo in response to my work conveys an air of desperation. Not content to point out a few flaws and praise a few strengths, they ignore the evidence on behalf of the hypotheses offered ("No evidence" is repeated like a mantram in Dr. Algeo's reviews) and attempt to demolish my credibility. Such extreme tactics directed toward a member of the same spiritual organization suggest that they perceive the stakes to be very high. Why is my work perceived by them as more "dangerous" than others which address the same topic? What they are defending has all the earmarks of a true "house of cards": a complex structure resting on a chain of inferences and rooted in demonstrably false assumptions. (That HPB and Olcott's accounts of the Masters are consistent and reliable, most notably.) My hypotheses provide a paradigm shift in approaches to the Masters, a shift that is extremely unwelcome in orthodox circles. If the Theosophical movement advances toward recognizing the need to sort out truth from fiction on the topic of the Masters, many things become subject to question. Most notably for Mme. Burnier and Dr. Algeo, these are the legitimacy of the Esoteric Section based on its alleged sponsorship by the Masters, since the TS remains dominated by this secret inner group. Most importantly for Mr. Caldwell, it might become necessary to reevaluate the spiritual status of Mme. Blavatsky and her Masters and the authority of texts he considers sacred. In order to forestall such developments, they have chosen to kill the messenger through an intellectualized form of character assassination. I can only hope that perceptive readers will recognize such tactics and what they reveal about those who use them. They strain at the gnat of my minor errors, while swallowing the camel of HPB's total credibility. This is their only strategy for propping up the house of cards in which orthodox Theosophists have been living for the past century. Until they can offer their own explanation of the evidence I have presented, and arguments for their interpretation of HPB, it will be obvious that they are more interested in defending dogmas than in searching for truth. This, in the words of the Gospel of Matthew, is the behavior of "blind guides."
E-mail The Neural Surfer directly at email@example.com
I want to go back to the home base now.