Mahatma Letter No. 47

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Quick Facts
People involved
Written by: Koot Hoomi
Received by: A. P. Sinnett
Sent via: unknown
Dates
Written on: unknown
Received on: February 1882
Other dates: none
Places
Sent from: unknown
Received at: Allahabad, India
Via: none

This is Letter No. 45 in Barker numbering. See below for Context and background.

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Cover sheet

First received after revival in February, 1882.

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NOTES:

Page 1 transcription, image, and notes

My Brother — I have been on a long journey after supreme knowledge, I took a long time to rest. Then, upon coming back, I had to give all my time to duty, and all my thoughts to the Great Problem. It is all over now: the New Year's festivities are at an end and I am "Self" once more. But what is Self? Only a passing guest, whose concerns are all like a mirage of the great desert. . . .

Anyhow — this is my first moment of leisure. I offer it to you, whose inner Self reconciles me to the outer man who but too often forgets that great man is he who is strongest in the exercise of patience. Look around you, my friend: see the "three poisons" raging within the heart of men — anger, greed, delusion, and the five obscurities — envy, passion, vacillation, sloth, and unbelief — ever preventing them seeing truth. They will never get rid of the pollution of their vain, wicked hearts, nor perceive the spiritual portion of themselves. Will you not try — for the sake of shortening the distance between us — to disentangle yourself from the net of life and death in which they are all caught,

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NOTES:

  • I have been on a long journey... The Master is referring to a retreat for initiation he took between the months of October and December, 1881.
  • The New Year's festivities refers to the Tibetan New Year called Losar (Wylie: lo-gsar) which is celebrated for 15 days, with the main celebrations on the first three days. The exact date varies with the year. In 1882 losar fell on February 18.
  • "Three Poisons" and "Five Obscurities". These poisons and obscurities are presented here using a translation from the Chinese by Samuel Beal, available at the time. See Commentary about this letter.

Page 2

o cherish less — lust and desire? Young Portman is seriously meditating to leave all, to come over to us, and "become a Tibetan monk" as he puts it. His ideas are singularly mixed upon the two entirely different characteristics and qualifications of the "Monk" or Lama and the living "Lha," or Brother: but let him try by all means.

Aye — I am only now able to correspond with you. At the same time let me tell you that it is more difficult than before to exchange letters with you, though my regard for you has sensibly increased, instead of being lessened — as you feared — and will not diminish unless — but as the consequence of your own acts. That you will try to avoid in raising any such obstacle, I know well; but man, after all, is the victim of his surroundings while he lives in the atmosphere of society. We may be anxious to befriend such as we have an interest in, and yet be as helpless to do so, as is one who sees a friend engulfed in a stormy sea when no boat is near to be launched and his personal strength is paralysed by a stronger hand that keeps him back. Yes, I see your thought . . . but you are wrong.

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NOTES:

  • Young Portman has not been identified.

Page 3

Blame not the holy man for strictly doing his duty by humanity. Had it not been for the Chohan and his restraining influence you would not be reading now again a letter from your trans-Himalayan correspondent. The world of the Plains is antagonistic to that of the mountains, that you know; but what you do not know is the great harm produced by your own unconscious indiscretions. Shall I give you an instance? Remember the wrath produced on Stainton Moses by your too imprudent letter quoting ad libitum and with a freedom pregnant with the most disastrous results from my letter to you about him. . . . The cause generated at that time has now developed its results: not only has S.M. completely estranged himself from the Society some of whose members believe in us, but he has determined in his heart the utter annihilation of the British Branch. A psychic Society is being founded and he has succeeded in bringing over to it Wyld, Massey and others. Shall I also tell you the future of that new body? It will grow and develop and expand and finally the Theos. Soc. of London will be swamped in it, and lose first its influence then — its name, until Theosophy in its very name

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NOTES:

Page 4

becomes a thing of the Past. It is you alone, the simple action of your swift pen which will have produced the nidana and the ten-del, the "cause" and its "effect" and thus the work of seven years, the constant untiring efforts of the builders of the Theos. Society will perish — killed by the wounded vanity of a medium.

This simple act on your part is silently digging out a chasm between us. The evil may yet be averted — let the Society exist but in name till the day it can get members with whom we can work de facto — and by the creation of another counteracting cause we may save the situation. The hand of the Chohan alone can bridge it, but it must be yours that places the first stone for the work. How will you do it? How can you do it? Think of it well, if you care for further intercourse. They want something new, a Ritual to amuse them. Consult with Subba Row, with Sankariah the Dewan Naib of Cochin, read attentively his pamphlet extracts from which you will find in the last Theosophist (see, "A Flash of

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NOTES:

  • Nidāna is a Sanskrit word that means "cause," and ten-del (Tibetan, rten 'brel) is usually translated as "dependent origination." It refers to the "chain of causation" in Buddhism, the concatenation of cause and effect that drives each individual stream of consciousness into successive rebirths.

Page 5

of Light upon Occult Free Masonry." Page 35). I can come nearer to you, but you must draw me by a purified heart and a gradually developing will. Like the needle the adept follows his attractions. Is this not the law of the disembodied Principles? Why then not of the living also? As the social ties of the carnal man are too weak to call back the "Soul" of the deceased except where there is a mutual affinity which survives as a force in the region within the terrestrial region, so the calls of mere friendship or even enthusiastic regard are too feeble to draw the "Lha" who has passed on a stage of the journey to him he has left behind, unless a parallel development goes on. M. spoke well and truthfully when saying that a love of collective humanity is his increasing inspiration; and if any one individual should wish to divert his regards to himself, he must overpower the diffusive tendency by a stronger force.

All this I say, not because its substance has not been told you before, but because

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NOTES:

  • Lha is a Tibetan word usually translated as "god", which the Mahatmas sometimes use to refer to themselves.

Page 6

I read your heart and detect in it a shade of sadness, not to say disappointment, that hovers there. You have had other correspondents but are not perfectly satisfied. To gratify, I write you therefore with some effort to bid you keep a cheerful frame of mind. Your strivings, perplexities and forebodings are equally noticed, good and faithful friend. In the imperishable RECORD of the Masters you have written them all. There are registered your every deed and thought; for, though not a chela, as you say to my Brother Morya, nor even a "protege" — as you understand the term — still, you have stepped within the circle of our work, you have crossed the mystic line which separates your world from ours, and now whether you persevere or not; whether we become later on, in your sight, still more living real entities or vanish out of your mind like so many dream fictions — perchance an ugly night-mare — you are virtually OURS. Your hidden Self has mirrored itself in our Akasa; your nature is — yours, your essence is — ours. The flame is distinct from the log of wood which serves it temporarily as fuel;

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NOTES:

Page 7

at the end of your apparitional birth — and whether we two, meet face to face in our grosser rupas — you cannot avoid meeting us in Real Existence. Yea, verily good friend your Karma is ours, for you imprinted it daily and hourly upon the pages of that book where the minutest particulars of the individuals stepping inside our circle — are preserved; and that your Karma is your only personality to be when you step beyond. In thought and deed, by day, in soul-struggles by nights, you have been writing the story of your desires and your spiritual development. This, every one does who approaches us with any earnestness of desire to become our co-worker, he himself "precipitates" the written entries by the identical process used by us when we write inside your closed letters and uncut pages of books and pamphlets in transit. (See pp. 32, 35 Report sent by Olcott, once more.) I tell you this for your private information and it must not figure in the next pamphlet from Simla. During the past few months, especially, when your weary brain was plunged in the torpor of sleep, your eager soul has often been searching after me, and the

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NOTES:

  • Grosser rupas. In Hinduism and Buddhism, rūpa (Devanagari: रूप) means "form" or "body".

Page 8

current of your thought been beating against my protecting barriers of Akas as the lapping wavelets against a rocky shore. What that "inner Self," impatient, anxious — has longed to bind itself to, the carnal man, the worldlings' master has not ratified: the ties of life are still as strong as chains of steel. Sacred, indeed, some of them are, and no one would ask you to rupture them. There below, lies your long-cherished field of enterprise and usefulness. Ours can never be more than a bright phantom-world to the man of thorough "practical sense"; and if your case be in some degree exceptional, it is because your nature has deeper inspirations than those of others, who are still more "business-like" and the fountain-head of whose eloquence is in the brain not in the heart, which never was in contact with the mysteriously effulgent, and pure heart of Tathagata.

If you hear seldom from me, never feel disappointed, my Brother, but say — "It is my fault." Nature has linked all parts of her Empire together by subtle threads

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NOTES:

  • Tathāgata is the most often used name for a Buddha in the Buddhist scriptures. The pure heart of Tathagata refers to the tathāgata-garbha, the buddha-nature found in everyone.
  • Effulgent is radiant or shining brightly; emanating joy or goodness. It here describes the pure heart of Tathagata, and thus stands for Sanskrit prabhāsvara, "luminous," often translated from Tibetan as "clear light."

Page 9

of magnetic sympathy, and, there is a mutual correlation even between a star and a man; thought runs swifter than the electric fluid, and your thought will find me if projected by a pure impulse, as mine will find, has found, and often impressed your mind. We may move in cycles of activity divided — not entirely separated from each other. Like the light in the sombre valley seen by the mountaineer from his peaks, every bright thought in your mind, my Brother, will sparkle and attract the attention of your distant friend and correspondent. If thus we discover our natural Allies in the Shadow-world — your world and ours outside the precincts — and it is our law to approach every such an one if even there be but the feeblest glimmer of the true "Tathagata" light within him — then how far easier for you to attract us. Understand this and the admission into the Society of persons often distasteful to you will no longer amaze you. "They that be whole

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NOTES:

  • Tathagata light within him refers to the effulgence or luminosity of the pure heart of Tathagata or tathāgata-garbha, the buddha-nature found in everyone.

Page 10

need not the physician, but they that be sick" — is an axiom, whoever may have spoken it.

And now, let me bid you farewell for the present until the next. Indulge not in apprehensions of what evil might happen if things should not go as your worldly wisdom thinks they ought; doubt not, for this complexion of doubt unnerves and pushes back one's progress. To have cheerful confidence and hope is quite another thing from giving way to the fool's blind optimism: the wise man never fights misfortune in advance. A cloud does lower over your path — it gathers about the hill of Jakko. He whom you made your confidant — I advised you to become but his co-worker, not to divulge things to him that you should have kept locked within your bosom — is under a baneful influence, and may become your enemy. You do right to try to rescue him from it, for it bodes ill to him, to you and to the Society.

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NOTES:

  • The hill of Jakko is a favourite ride at Simla, whose misty slopes are mentioned in many of the Indian stories.

Page 11

His greater mind fumed by vanity and charmed by the pipings of a weaker but more cunning one, is for the time under a spell of fascination. You will easily detect the malign power that stands behind both and uses them as tools for the execution of its own nefarious plans. The intended catastrophe can be averted by redoubled vigilance and increased fervour of pure will on the part of the friends of S.B.L. Work then, if you still will, to turn the blow aside; for if it falls you will not escape unhurt however great my Brothers' efforts. The cause will never be ruined though albeit the Sisyphus' rock may crush a good many toes. Farewell, again, my friend — for longer or shorter, as you may determine. I am called to duty.

Yours faithfully,

K. H.

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NOTES:

  • S.B.L. is probably Simla Branch Lodge.[1]

Context and background

This is the first letter of Mahatma K. H. to A. P. Sinnett after the latter’s return from his retreat.

Physical description of letter

The original is in the British Library, Folio 2. According to George Linton and Virginia Hanson, the letter was written:

In medium blue ink, in a large clear script, on six sheets of white paper. The first four sheets are written on both sides, the fifth on one side and the sixth on both sides.[2]

Publication history

Commentary about this letter

Theosophical and Buddhist scholar, David Reigle, has identified the source for some of the wording of the following fragment of this letter:

Look around you, my friend: see the "three poisons" raging within the heart of men — anger, greed, delusion, and the five obscurities — envy, passion, vacillation, sloth, and unbelief — ever preventing them seeing truth. They will never get rid of the pollution of their vain, wicked hearts, nor perceive the spiritual portion of themselves. Will you not try — for the sake of shortening the distance between us — to disentangle yourself from the net of life and death in which they are all caught, to cherish less — lust and desire?

This fragment quotes A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, by Samuel Beal (London, 1871, pp. 196-197), which was one of the very few books then available that spoke of the fundamental Buddhist teaching:

14. Buddha said: A man who cherishes lust and desire, and does not aim after (see) supreme knowledge, is like a vase of dirty water, in which all sorts of beautiful objects are placed—the water being shaken up men can see nothing of the objects therein placed; so it is lust and desire, causing confusion and disorder in the heart, are like the mud in the water; they prevent our seeing the beauty of supreme reason (Religion). But if a man, by the gradual process of confession and penance, comes near to the acquirement of knowledge, then the mud in the water being removed, all is clear and pure—remove the pollution and immediately of itself comes forth the substantial form. So also when a fire is placed under a pot, and the water within it made to boil, then whoever looks down upon it will see no shadow of himself. So the three poisons which rage within the heart(1), and the five obscurities(2) which embrace it, effectually prevent one attaining (seeing) supreme reason. But once get rid of the pollution of the wicked heart, and then we perceive the spiritual portion of ourselves which we have had from the first, although involved in the net of life and death—gladly then we mount to the Paradise (lands) of all the Buddhas, where reason and virtue continually abide. (from the Sūtra of the Forty-two Sections)
(1) The three poisons are covetousness, anger, delusion.
(2) The five obscurities are envy, passion, sloth, vacillation, unbelief.

This was an English translation of a Chinese translation of a Sanskrit text, one that moreover was made when Buddhism was little known in the West. Therefore, the translations of these important Buddhist terms are far from exact. For a better translation of these terms, based on their explanations found in the Sanskrit and Pali Buddhist texts, see Three poisons and five hindrances.

Tathāgata-garbha doctrine

David Reigle also points out that it is noteworthy that the Mahatma here speaks about what is clearly the tathāgata-garbha, since this doctrine is not found in southern Buddhism, and was unknown to the outside world until the publication in 1931 of E. Obermiller's translation from Tibetan of the "Uttara-tantra" or Ratna-gotra-vibhāga. The Sanskrit text was later discovered and published in 1950. In the latest English translation, When the Clouds Part by Karl Brunnholzl, tathāgata-garbha is translated as tathāgata heart, while earlier translations had used "essence" or "germ" or "matrix" or "embryo" rather than "heart". Nowadays the tathāgata-garbha is generally referred to as the buddha-nature, even though this is not a literal translation, because it well expresses what the term refers to.

Notes

  1. George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, eds., Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 122.
  2. George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, eds., Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 120.

Additional resources