Sunday, November 27, 2005

India | Darjeeling | Madame Blavatsky | Mahatmic Intrigue

Along with being famous for tea, Darjeeling is invariably connected with the so-called Mahatmas, or Ascended Masters, the spiritual teachers first unleashed on the unsuspecting world in the late nineteenth century by the Russian traveler, writer, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, world-class adventuress, and Fairy Godmother of the New Age movement Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, often referred to by her followers as H.P.B.
Madame Helena Petronova Blavatsky

According to H.P.B. the Mahatmas were highly evolved spiritual entities who had taken human form and were acting as her gurus. The Theosphical Society was based in part on the teachings of these Mahatmas as relayed to the general public by Madame Blavatsky and in Hundreds of Letters to various people that they allegedy wrote, many of which were eventually collected and published in book form. Madame Blavatsky managed to convince her huge and influential following during her lifetime of the existence of the Mahatmas, although sceptics maintained that they never existed outside of her own legendarily fecund imagination and that the letters which supposedly emanated from them were written by H.P.B. herself.
If, however, the Mahatmas were inventions of Madame Blavatsky’s, they should have vanished from the scene when she herself transmigrated in 1891. Instead, to the intense frustration of Madame Blavatsky’s innumerable critics, they refused to disappear and instead took on a life of their own, continuing to write letters and appear either in material or astral form to those who had taken up the Theosophical torch. Many later adherents of Theosophy, including Nicholas Roerich and his wife Helena Roerich (given their Shambhalic proclivities it was inevitable that both of them eventually showed up in Ulaan Baatar) continued to believe explicitly in the Mahatmas. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books, articles, and pamphlets have been written about them, both pro and con, and indeed the dispute about their existence rages on to this day, as any search on the internet will very quickly reveal.
In Madame Blavatsky’s day Darjeeling was a hotbed of Mahatmic intrigue. Madame Blavatsky herself had been taken there by the Mahatmas, in particular Morya, or Master M. as he was sometimes called.
Although numerous Mahatmas would surface over the years the two most prevalent, and certainly the two busiest letter writers were Master Morya and Koot Hoomi.
Koot Hoomi
One of the more celebrated meetings with a Mahatma took place near Darjeeling, between one of Madame’s Indian acolytes, a young man named S. Ramaswamier, and Master Morya.

Madame Blavatsky and her co-conspirator, the American lawyer Henry Steele Olcott, had founded the Theosophical Society in New York City in September of 1875.
Henry Steel Olcott
In December of 1878 Madame Blavatsky—by that time a naturalized American citizen (the first Russian woman to achieve that honor)—and Olcott decamped to Bombay, India, where they hoped to find more fecund grounds for the flowering of the Theosophical Society. They soon attracted a sizable contingent of both Indian and British followers. Among the Indians was Ramaswamier, a young clerk from the city of Tinnevelly. During a visit to the Theosophical Headquarters in Bombay in September of 1881 Ramaswamier claimed to have seen a materialization of Master Morya, and shortly thereafter he received a letter from the Master welcoming him as an chela, or acolyte, in the Himalayan Brotherhood. “Upasika [“female disciple,” the Masters’ name for Madame Blavatsky] has all the instructions. Let my chela [Ramaswamier] follow the instruction he will receive from her,” Master M. told him in a letter. Like many chelas and other Theosophy camp followers Ramaswamier was extremely eager to see and converse with the Masters, and he apparently began badgering Madame Blavatsky, who was in communication with them, to arrange a meeting. At some point he must have threatened to go to Tibet in search of the Masters himself if Madame Blavatsky would not faciliate an encounter. In response, Ramaswamier received another Mahatma letter sometime in September of 1882: “YOU cannot go to Tibet . . .” Master M. admonished him, “You must first show that you deserve it by labouring in that direction for two or three years. You must be prepared to do anything told to you, anything you are ordered through her [Madame Blavatsky]. If you have faith in us—others have not—are you prepared to do all and everything to prove our existence?” If Madame Blavatsky was, as her legions of detractors maintained, the actual author of the various letters from the Mahatmas, then instructions like these were just fairly simply ploys to ensure the obedience of her followers. As it turned out, Ramaswamier was “prepared to do all and everything to prove” the existence of the Masters.”

About this time Ramaswamier had a physical and mental breakdown. He applied for and was granted a medical leave of absence from his job.“One day in September last,” he later wrote, “while I was reading in my room, I was ordered by the audible voice of my blessed Guru, M——Maharsi, to leave all and proceed immediately to Bombay, whence I had to go in search of Madame Blavatsky wherever I could find her and follow her wherever she went. Without losing a moment, I closed up all my affairs and left for the station.”
In Bombay he discovered that Madame had become very ill and had suddenly decamped from the city several days earlier. As Ramaswamier himself later related:
Really not knowing whither I had best go, I took a through ticket to Calcutta; but, on reaching Allahabad, I heard the same well-known voice [Master M.?] directing me to go to Berhampore. At Azimgunge, in the train, I met, most providentially I may say, with some Babus (I did not then know they were also Theosophists since I had never seen any of them), who were also in search of Madame Blavatsky. Some had traced her to Dinapore, but lost her track and went back to Berhampore. They knew, they said, she was going to Tibet and wanted to throw themselves at the feet of the Mahatmas to permit them to accompany her. At last, as I was told, they received from her a note, informing them to come if they so desired it, but that she herself was prohibited from going to Tibet just now. She was to remain, she said, in the vicinity of Darjeeling and would see the BROTHERS on the Sikkim Territory, where they would not be allowed to follow her. . .
Although it would appear he had found the trail of the elusive Madame Blavastky, for whom he was so diligently searching, Ramaswamier decided for some reason to continued on to Calcutta. Here he met with a “Brother Nobin,” president of the local Theosophical Society. Nobin, relates Ramaswamier, “would not tell me where Madame Blavatsky was, or perhaps did not then know himself. Yet he and other had risked all in hopes of seeing the Mahatmas.” Apparently Nobin soon got intimations of her whereabouts, since on 23 September he took Ramaswamier to the city of Chandernagore, just north of Calcutta, where they were promptly united with the frustratingly evasive Madame Blavatsky. She had little to say to the hapless Ramaswamier, but a man with her who he assumed was a Tibetan informed him, Ramaswamier, that he was too late, “that Madame Blavatsky had already seen the Mahatmas and that he had brought her back.” Nevertheless Ramaswamier, Nobin, and assorted other camp followers were now determined to follow Madame Blavatsky where ever she might go. There followed a bizarre series of events—trains mysteriously leaving ahead of schedule, connections inexplicable missed, and so on—which again separated the Theosophical seekers from their leader. Ramaswamier explains:
It requires no great stretch of imagination to know that Madame Blavatsky had been or was, perhaps, being again taken to the BROTHERS, who, for some good reasons best known to them, did not want us to be following and watching her. Two of the Mahatmas, I had learned for a certainty, were in the neighbourhood of British territory; and one of them was seen and recognised—by a person I need not name here—as a high Chutuktu [?] of Tibet.
Finally, however, Madame Blavatsky with her band of acolytes in tow reached Darjeeling. Here Madame shut herself up in house of a Bengalese Theosophist and refused to talk to any of the party who had followed her, including Ramaswamier. No matter, however; on or about September 30 Ramaswamier got a letter from Master M. with explicit instructions written in the third person:
RAMASWAMIER will don the robes of a regular Vedantin ascetic—even to the top-knot if necessary, and send his useless clothes to Bombay. He must travel from town to town along the line to Allahabad, and preach Theosophy and Vedantism. Every one must know he is my chela, and that he has seen me in Sikkim. He must let Upasika know of his movements constantly, and finally join her at Allahabad—as also receive my orders through her. His whole aspiration and concern must be directed towards one aim—convince the world of our existence.
The point to remember here is that Master M is telling the impressionable Ramaswamier about their meeting before it even occurred, thus making it appear that such an encounter was pre-ordained. Yet Madame Blavatsky herself refused to offer any assistance. “To all our importunities,” Ramaswamier wrote, “we could get only this answer from her: that we had no business to stick to and follow her, that she did not want us, and that she had no right to disturb the Mahatmas, with all sorts of questions that concerned only the questioners, for they knew their own business best.”
If, as her armies of detractors maintained, Madame Blavatsky was the inventor of the Mahatmas and their letters were in fact her productions then this whole series of events was a masterful pyschological ploy. She had managed to assemble a whole group of Theosophists in Darjeeling, all the while maintaining she did not want them here, and then herself refused their heart’s desire—meeting the Mahatmas—while in a letter to Ramaswamier intimating that such an encounter was inevitable. It’s no wonder that Ramaswamier was confused. He was, after all, not only on medical leave for physical and mental exhaustion but had also just traveled helter-skelter coast-to-coast across India upon the instruction of “voices” and mysteriously delivered letters. “In despair, I determined, come what might, to cross the frontier which is about a dozen miles from here, and find the Mahatmas, or-DIE,” he wrote. “I never stopped to think that what I was going to undertake would be regarded as the rash act of a lunatic.”

“October 5, I set out in search of the Mahatmas,” wrote Ramaswamier. “I had an umbrella, and a pilgrim’s staff for sole weapons, with a few rupees in my purse. I wore the yellow garb and cap. Whenever I was tired on the road, my costume easily procured for me for a small sum a pony to ride.” He was bound for Sikkim, the border of which was at that time about a dozen miles north of Darjeeling, even though he had no permit to enter the country and would face arrest if caught. That afternoon he tried to cross the Ranjit River via the swaying suspension bridge, but soon lost his nerve and took the ferry instead. Soon the path narrowed and he was in thick jungle. “I met on the road, in the afternoon, a leopard and a wild cat;” he wrote, “and I am astonished now to think how I should have felt no fear then nor tried to run away. Throughout, some secret influence supported me. Fear or anxiety never once entered my mind. Perhaps in my heart there was room for no other feeling but an intense anxiety to find my Guru.” At nighfall he happened upon by sheer luck an uninhabited two-room cabin. The door was locked but a rear window proved to be unbolted. “By a strange coincidence of circumstances,” he noted, “the hillman had forgotten to fasten it on the inside when he locked the door! Or course, after what has subsequently transpired I now, through the eye of faith, see the protecting hand of my Guru everywhere around me.”
His sleep was interrupting by the arrival of two or three people who took up residence in the adjoining room, unaware of his presence. He was terrified that they were robbers who might murder him for his admittedly few ruples, or, alternately, that he would be mistaken for the robber and they would kill him to protect themselves. After a harrowing night he managed to sneak back out the window at the first light of dawn and continue on his way. Here Ramaswamier must be quoted at length, since his account is one of the few detailed descriptions of an alleged meeting with a Mahatma in the flesh, in this case Master Morya:

It was, I think, between eight and nine a.m. and I was following the road to the town of Sikkhim whence, I was assured by the people I met on the road, I could cross over to Tibet easily in my pilgrim’s garb, when I suddenly saw a solitary horseman galloping towards me from the opposite direction. From his tall stature and the expert way he managed the animal, I thought he was some military officer of the Sikkhim Rajah. Now, I thought, am I caught! He will ask me for my pass and what business I have on the independent territory of Sikkhim, and, perhaps, have me arrested and—sent back, if not worse. But—as he approached me, he reined the steed. I looked at and recognized him instantly . . . I was in the awful presence of him, of the same Mahatma, my own revered Guru whom I had seen before in his astral body, on the balcony of the Theosophical Headquarters! It was he, the “Himalayan BROTHER” of the ever memorable night of December last, who had so kindly dropped a letter in answer to one I had given in a sealed envelope to Madame Blavatsky—whom I had never for one moment during the interval lost sight of—but an hour or so before! The very same instant saw me prostrated on the ground at his feet. I arose at his command and, leisurely looking into his face, I forgot myself entirely in the contemplation of the image I knew so well, having seen his portrait (the one in Colonel Olcott’s possession) a number of times. I knew not what to say: joy and reverence tied my tongue. The majesty of his countenance, which seemed to me to be the impersonation of power and thought, held me rapt in awe. I was at last face to face with “the Mahatma of the Himavat” and he was no myth, no “creation of the imagination of a medium,” as some sceptics suggested. It was no night dream; it is between nine and ten o’clock of the forenoon. There is the sun shining and silently witnessing the scene from above. I see HIM before me in flesh and blood; and he speaks to me in accents of kindness and gentleness. What more do I want? My excess of happiness made me dumb. Nor was it until a few moments later that I was drawn to utter a few words, encouraged by his gentle tone and speech. His complexion is not as fair as that of Mahatma Koot Hoomi; but never have I seen a countenance so handsome, a stature so tall and so majestic. As in his portrait, he wears a short black beard, and long black hair hanging down to his breast; only his dress was different. Instead of a white, loose robe he wore a yellow mantle lined with fur, and, on his head, instead of a pagri, a yellow Tibetan felt cap, as I have seen some Bhootanese wear in this country. When the first moments of rapture and surprise were over and I calmly comprehended the situation, I had a long talk with him. He told me to go no further, for I would come to grief. He said I should wait patiently if I wanted to become an accepted Chela; that many were those who offered themselves as candidates, but that only a very few were found worthy; none were rejected—but all of them tried, and most found to fail signally, especially—and—. Some, instead of being accepted and pledged this year, were now thrown off for a year . . . The Mahatma, I found, speaks very little English—or at least it so seemed to me—and spoke to me in my mother-tongue—Tamil. He told me that if the Chohan permitted Madame B. to go to Pari-jong next year, then I could come with her . . . The Bengalee Theosophists who followed the “Upasika” (Madame Blavatsky) would see that she was right in trying to dissuade them from following her now. I asked the blessed Mahatma whether I could tell what I saw and heard to others. He replied in the affirmative and that moreover I would do well to write to you and describe all . . .
Ramaswamier immediately turned around and headed back to Darjeeling, arriving late that evening completely exhausted by his two day ordeal. “I could neither eat, nor sit, nor stand. Every part of my body was aching,” he declared. He immediately went to see Madame Blavatsky, who was spending the evening with other members of the Theosophical Society. “At their prayer and Madame Blavatsky’s command, I recounted all that had happened to me, reserving of course my private conversation with the Mahatma . . . They were all, to say the least, astounded!”

We have no further description of Madame Blavatsky’s reaction, but she must have been very pleased by the performance of her acolyte. He had met Master Morya in Sikkim just as he had been instructed to do in the letter he had received earlier. His account was duly published in December issue of Madame Blavatsky’s journal The Theosophist under the title “How a ‘Chela’ Found His ‘Guru,”’ and became one of the main “proofs” of the existence of the Mahatmas, although of course there were no witnesses but Ramaswamier himself. Ramaswamier stuck to his story for the rest of his life. “And now that I have seen the Mahatma in the flesh,” he declared, “and heard his living voice, let no one dare say to me that the BROTHERS do not exist. Come now whatever will, death has no fear for me, nor the vengeance of enemies; for what I know, I KNOW!

No novelist would dare create a character like Madame Blavatsky. She was definitely sui generis. Marion Meade has waded into the morass of myth and legends swirling around H.P.B. and emerged with a fairly cogent, and wonderfully entertaining, biography firmly in hand. See her account of Madame Blavatsky's well-nigh unbelievable life: Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth. Book Description:
“Madame Helena Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, was the granddaughter of a White Russian princess. She became the first internationally famous professional psychic and she was also a brilliant occult con artist who drew such figures as G. B. Shaw and William Butler Yeats into her bizarre web. A fervent flower child, she journeyed to the East in search of enlightenment almost 100 years before the hippie hegira of the 1960s.”
For less impartial accounts compiled by a True Believer see:

Read H.P.B.s magnum opus The Secret Doctrine: