Mahatma Letter to H. S. Olcott - LMW 1 No. 19

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Written by: Koot Hoomi
Received by: Henry Steel Olcott
Sent via: unknown 
Written on: unknown
Received on: 22 August 1888
Other dates: unknown
Sent from: unknown
Received at: S.S. Shannon at sea
Via: unknown
SS Shannon

This letter is Letter No. 19 in Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series. Mahatma Koot Hoomi writes to Henry Steel Olcott about the importance of Madame Blavatsky's esoteric work in England, and urging the Colonel to exhibit restraint. Olcott was on board the S.S. Shannon headed for Brindisi, Italy, so this is referred to as the "Shannon Letter."[1]

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Page 1 transcription, image, and notes

To Henry Olcott

Again, as you approach London I have a word or two to say to you. Your impressibility is so changeful that I must not wholly depend upon it at this critical time. Of course you know that things were so brought to a focus as to necessitate the present journey and that the inspiration to make it came to you and to permit it to the Councillors from without. Put all needed restraint upon your feelings, so that you may do the right thing in this Western imbroglio. Watch your first impressions. The mistakes you make spring from failure to do this. Let neither your personal predilections, affections, suspicions nor antipathies affect your action.

Misunderstandings have grown up between Fellows both in London and Paris, which imperil the interests



  • Councillors refers to members of the governing Council of the Theosophical Society.
  • Fellows refers to Fellows of the Theosophical Society, or members.

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of the movement. You will be told that the chief originator of most, if not of all these disturbances is H.P.B. This is not so; though her presence in England has, of course, a share in them. But the largest share rests with others, whose serene unconsciousness of their own defects is very marked and much to be blamed. One of the most valuable effects of Upasika's mission is that it drives men to self-study and destroys in them blind servility for persons. Observe your own case, for example. But your revolt, good friend, against her infallibility — as you once thought it — has gone too far and you have been unjust to her, for which I am



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sorry to say, you will have to suffer hereafter along with others. Just now, on deck, your thoughts about her were dark and sinful, and so I find the moment a fitting one to put you on your guard.

Try to remove such misconceptions as you will find, by kind persuasion and an appeal to the feelings of loyalty to the Cause of truth if not to us. Make all these men feel that we have no favourites, nor affections for persons, but only for their good acts and humanity as a whole. But we employ agents — the best available. Of these for the past thirty years the chief has been



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the personality known as H.P.B. to the world (but otherwise to us). Imperfect and very troublesome, no doubt, she proves to some, nevertheless, there is no likelihood of our finding a better one for years to come — and your theosophists should be made to understand it. Since 1885 I have not written, nor caused to be written save thro’ her agency, direct and remote, a letter or line to anybody in Europe or America, nor communicated orally with, or thro’ any third party. Theosophists should learn it. You will understand later the significance of this declaration



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so keep it in mind. Her fidelity to our work being constant, and her sufferings having come upon her thro’ it, neither I nor either of my Brother associates will desert or supplant her. As I once before remarked, ingratitude is not among our vices.

With yourself our relations are direct, and have been with the rare exceptions you know of, like the present, on the psychical plane, and so will continue thro’ force of circumstances. That they are so rare — is your own fault as I told you in my last.

To help you in your present perplexity: H.P.B. has next to no concern with administrative



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details, and should be kept clear of them, so far as her strong nature can be controlled. But this you must tell to all: — With occult matters she has everything to do. We have not abandoned her; she is not ‘given over to chelas’. She is our direct agent. I warn you against permitting your suspicions and resentment against ‘her many follies’ to bias your intuitive loyalty to her. In the adjustment of this European business, you will have two things to consider — the external and administrative, and the internal and psychical. Keep the former under your control



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and that of your most prudent associates, jointly: leave the latter to her. You are left to devise the practical details with your usual ingenuity. Only be careful, I say, to discriminate when some emergent interference of hers in practical affairs is referred to you on appeal, between that which is merely exoteric in origin and effects, and that which beginning on the practical tends to beget consequences on the spiritual plane. As to the former you are the best judge, as to the latter, she.

I have also noted your thoughts about the ‘Secret Doctrine’. Be assured that what she has not



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annotated from scientific and other works, we have given or suggested to her. Every mistake or erroneous notion, corrected and explained by her from the works of other theosophist was corrected by me, or under my instruction . It is a more valuable work than its predecessor, an epitome of occult truths that will make it a source of information and instruction for the earnest student for long years to come.

P. Sreenivasrow is in great mental distress once more because of my long silence, not having a clear intuition developed (as how should he after the life he has led?). He fears he is abandoned, whereas he has not been lost



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sight of for one moment. From day to day he is making his own record at the ‘Ashrum’, from night to night receiving instructions fitted to his spiritual capabilities. He has made occasional mistakes, e.g., once recently, in helping thrust out of the Headquarters house, one who deserved a more charitable treatment, whose fault was the result of ignorance and psychical feebleness rather than of sin, and who was a strong man’s victim. Report to him, when you return, the lesson taught you by [symbol] at Bombay, and tell my devoted tho’ mistaken ‘son’ that it was most theosophical to give her protection, most untheosophical and selfish to drive her away.



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I wish you to assure others T.T., R.A.M.,N.N.S., N.D.C., G.N.C., U.U.B., T.V.C., P.V.S., N.B.C., C.S., C.W.L. D.N.G., D.H., S.N.C., etc. among the rest, not forgetting the other true workers in Asia, that the stream of karma is ever flowing on and we as well as they must win our way towards Liberation. There have been sore trials in the past, others await you in the future. May the faith and courage which have supported you hitherto endure to the end.

You had better not mention for the present this letter to anyone — not even to H.P.B. unless she speaks to you of it herself. Time enough



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when you see occasion arise. It is merely given you, as a warning and a guide; to others, as a warning only, for you may use it discreetly if needs be.


Prepare, however, to have the authenticity of the present denied in certain quarters.



Context and background

Henry Steel Olcott wrote in his diary for August 22, 1888,[2]

"Weather fine. Received in my cabin while dressing a [three dots here in the form of a triangle] letter of instructions."

Mr. Jinarajadasa provided extensive notes about this letter:

There is little doubt, not only from the context, but also from one fact mentioned by Colonel Olcott that this letter was received in August 1888. But, curiously, it seems from reading Old Dairy Leaves, Third Series, p.91, as if it were received in 1883. Colonel Olcott there quotes from this Letter, and connects it with the difficulties of 1884 in the London Lodge, concerning which instructions were given to him in Letter 18. Colonel Olcott mentions (O.D.L., Third Series, p.91) that Letter 19 was ‘received phenomenally in my cabin on board the Shannon, the day before we reached Brindisi’. But he sailed from Bombay for London on P. & O. Mail Steamer Shannon on 7 August 1888, as reported in his diary on that date, and in The Theosophist ‘Supplement’, September 1888, p. ciii. Furthermore, in the body of the letter itself the Master says: ‘since 1885 I have not written’; and C.W.L., who is mentioned at the end of the letter, did not come out to India till December 1884. It would seem, therefore, that Colonel Olcott, when narrating events about the London Lodge, took this letter about the ‘situation’ in 1888 to refer to the situation in 1884.

It is perhaps worth mentioning the urgency of the situation in 1888. The T.S. was founded in 1875, and for the first seven years of its life it was being tested in several different ways. In one respect it failed, and this was because of its disinclination to accept openly the direct guidance of the Society by the ‘Brothers’, i.e., the Masters, who formed the ‘First Section’ of the Society. By 1882 the majority of members in the T.S., especially in London, accepted the occult philosophy given by the Masters, but refused to accept the occult guidance given by the Masters through their chelas in the outer administration of the Society. At the end of the first cycle, in 1882, the Masters, therefore, retired somewhat into the background, so far as the Society’s outer affairs were concerned, and gave their directions only to a few selected individuals.

Before the second cycle was about to be completed in 1889, H.P.B. was anxious to make another effort to strengthen the occult links between the T.S. and the Masters, because the T.S. was becoming steadily devitalized. It did not attempt to develop the idea of brotherhood, and its magazine, The Theosophist, was, under Colonel Olcott’s direction merely one for comparative religion. After the shock to the Society from the Coulomb-Missionary attack in 1884, and the adverse report of the Society for Psychical Research declaring H.P.B. to be a fraud and trickster, Colonel Olcott feared for the Society if it were to be publicly linked to the idea of the Masters, and he purposely avoided in the magazine all references to them and their connection with the Society (See Letter 47).

Meantime in London, from 1887, a band gathered round H.P.B., especially of men and women under about thirty-five, composed of the two Keightleys, C.F.Wright, G.R.S. Mead, Laura Cooper, E.T. Sturdy, W.G. Old, and others, who pledged themselves to H.P.B. In addition, they definitely desired to tread the road to the Masters, and enrolled themselves as H.P.B.’s personal disciples. A complication was added to the situation by a fear on the part of Colonel Olcott that H.P.B. in Europe was organizing a counterpoise to his influence in the Society as President, and was attempting to create an imperium in imperio. The young band round H.P.B. had little knowledge of Colonel Olcott’s record of sacrifices for the Society. They thought of him as ‘the old man’ at Adyar who was obstructing H.P.B.’s plans to serve the cause of the Masters. The Colonel was angry with H.P.B. and her devoted band when he set out from India to put a stop to what he construed to be an insurrection. It was then that the Master K.H. entered into the situation with this letter precipitated in his cabin on board S.S. Shannon, the day before the steamer reached Brindisi. As a result of the letter Colonel Olcott modified his attitude and he smoothed matters in the Society’s administration, so that the E.S.T. might do its work under the sole direction of H.P.B., without the T.S. interfering in its affairs, or being interfered with in its democratic organization by the E.S.T. It was not, however, till 1908 that the T.S. fully regained its original position, with the Masters of the Wisdom as once more the First Section of the Society.

The triangle with dot in the middle refers to the Master M. The incident referred to is as follows. In the U.S.A., Mr D.M. Bennett was at this time one of the foremost leaders of free-thought and a strong opponent of the narrow bigotry which then passed as Christianity in the eastern States. He was editor of The Truthseeker. He had suffered a year’s imprisonment on a charge of blasphemy, Colonel Olcott says, ‘for his bitter — often coarse — attacks upon Christian dogmatism’, and he narrates the story of the trumped up charges against Mr Bennett (O.D.L., Second Series, Chap. XXII). Mr Bennett arrived in Bombay in January 1882, in the course of a world tour. He had read The Occult World, and applied to join the Society. Owing to hostile incidents in Bombay which Colonel Olcott narrates, he ‘hesitated to take him into membership, for fear that it might plunge us into another public wrangle’. It was then that the Master M. interfered and ordered him to admit Mr Bennett into membership, giving certain reasons.

But even before the arrival of Mr Bennett, Mr Sinnett received from the Master D.K. a message from the Master K.H. as follows:

I have also to tell you that in a certain Mr Bennett of America who will shortly arrive at Bombay, you may recognize one, who, in spite of his national provincialism, that you so detest, and his too infidelistic bias, is one of our agents (unknown to himself) to carry out the scheme for the enfranchisement of Western thought from superstitious creeds. If you can see your way towards giving him a correct idea of the actual present and potential future state of Asiatic but more particularly of Indian thought, it will be gratifying to my Master (The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, Letter 37, received at Allahabad, January 1882).

When Mr Sinnett met Mr Bennett, evidently his reactions were distinctly unfavourable. (Here we have to remember that Mr Sinnett’s attitude to all but a few selected Americans was not cordial.) The topic of Mr Bennett is now taken up by the Master M. writing to Mr Sinnett:

You saw only that Bennett had unwashed hands, uncleaned nails and used coarse language and has — to you — a generally unsavoury aspect. But if that sort of thing is your criterion of moral excellence or potential power, how many adepts or wonder producing lamas would pass your muster? This is part of your blindness. Were he to die this minute — and I’ll use a Christian phraseology to make you comprehend me the better — few hotter tears would drop from the eye of the recording Angel of Death over other such ill-used men, as the tear Bennett would received for his share. Few men have suffered — and unjustly suffered — as he has: and as few have a more kind, unselfish and truthful a heart. That’s all: and the unwashed Bennett is morally as far superior to the gentlemanly Hume as you are superior to your bearer [his valet].

What H.P.B. repeated to you is correct: ‘the natives do not see Bennett’s coarseness and K.H. is also a native’. What did I mean? Why simply that our Buddhalike friend can see thro’ the varnish, the grain of the wood beneath and inside the slimy, stinking oyster — the ‘priceless pearl within!’ B — is an honest man and of a sincere heart, besides one of tremendous moral courage and a martyr to boot. Such our K.H. loves — whereas he would have only scorn for a Chesterfield and Grandison. I suppose that the stooping of the finished ‘gentleman’ K.H., to the coarse fibred infidel Bennett is no more surprising than the alleged stooping of the ‘gentleman’ Jesus to the prostitute Magdalene. There’s a moral smell as well as a physical one, good friend. See how much K.H. read your character when he would not send the Lahore youth to talk with you without a change of dress. The sweet pulp of the orange is inside the skin, Sahib: try to look inside boxes for jewels and do not trust to those lying in the lid, I say again; the man is an honest man and very earnest one; not exactly an angel — they must be hunted for in fashionable churches, parties at aristocratical mansions, theatres and clubs and such other sanctums — but as angels are outside our cosmogony we are glad of the help of even honest and plucky tho’ dirty men (The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, Letter 43, received at Allahabad, February 1882).

I have not been able to get any reliable knowledge regarding the lady referred to and why she was sent away from Adyar by P. Sreenivasarow.

The initials refer to the following persons: Tookaram Tatya, Norendro Nath Sen, Gyanendra Nath Chakravarti, T. Vijayaraghava Charlu, P. Vencata Subbiah, (Pandit) Chandra Sekhara, C.W. Leadbeater, Dina Nath Ganguli, S. Nilakantkumar Chatterjee. I am unable, though I have inquired and searched much, to identify who are the other ‘true workers in Asia’ referred to.[3]

Physical description of letter

According to Mr. Jinarajadasa, the original letter is at the Adyar headquarters of the Theosophical Society.

Publication history

This letter was published in 1919 as Letter 19 in the first edition of Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, 1881-1888, later known as the First Series.[4] It has kept this designation as Letter 19 throughout all editions.

Commentary about this letter

Marion Meade in her hostile biography Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth could not explain this letter: "How Helena managed to have this letter delivered is impossible to say; it is perhaps the only one of her drops that cannot be easily explained."[5]

A. P. Sinnett liked to believe that he was the first choice of the Masters to receive letters, and could not accept that Olcott was also favored with such messages. K. H. seems to acknowledge this situation in his postscript, "Prepare, however, to have the authenticity of the present denied in certain quarters." Sinnett wrote letters on October 12 and 23, 1888 to Charles Webster Leadbeater, who was then working in Ceylon:

One queer thing: Olcott has got with him a letter apparently from the Master K. H. received while he was on his voyage home. After making rather a mystery of it at first he ultimately showed it to me – and I do not feel at all sure of it. It reads to me very much en suite with the other letters in blue handwriting that came during the 1884 crisis, – when Mme. B. herself admitted to me afterwards that during that time the Masters had stood aside and left everything to various chelas including freedom to use the blue handwriting. Of course this paragraph is most strictly private to yourself. I do not want to raise a fresh storm by impugning the authenticity of the letter – which moreover has no direct reference to me – tho' it reads as tho' in a certain sense written at me, again a circumstance which makes it suspicious under the circs., as I know in my own heart that my inner loyalty to the Master and his ideas as far as I can interpret them is as unchangeably perfect as ever, as sound as yours and I can't say more. The letter is all just glorification of Mme. B. Well: if He made me know that He wanted me to beg Mme. B.'s pardon for having (been?) ill-judged (by) her I would go and apologise most humbly, but meanwhile I can only follow the inner Light....

Of course Olcott in his simple guileless way takes the letter as entirely genuine without a thought of questioning it and he is not to be blamed for doing so . . . I have not thought it of the least use to tell Olcott that I do not believe in the authenticity of the letter.[6]

Additional resources


  1. C. Jinarajadasa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 2011), 70, 160-161.
  2. As quoted by Daniel H. Caldwell in "The S.S. Shannon Letter from Koot Hoomi" entry in Theos-Talk discussion group. November 03, 2002.
  3. C. Jinarajadasa, 149-156.
  4. Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, 1881-1888. Adyar, Madras, India; London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1919. Foreword by Annie Besant; transcribed and compiled by C. Jinarajadasa.
  5. Marion Meade, Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth (New York: Putnam, 1980), 409.
  6. As quoted int C. JinarājadāsaThe "K. H." Letters to C. W. Leadbeater (Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1941), 74.