The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (book)
The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett is a foundational work of the Theosophical Movement. First published in 1923 by A. Trevor Barker, this volume gathers most of the letters sent by Mahatmas Morya and Koot Hoomi to A. P. Sinnett and A. O. Hume between the years 1880 and 1884. The original letters are in the British Library.
Origin of the correspondence
In the summer of 1880, The Founders visited the Alfred P. Sinnett and his wife, Patience, at their summer home in Simla. There, H. P. Blavatsky performed some amazing phenomena, claiming that these were done by the "Brothers," that is, the Mahatmas with whom she was psychically in contact.
In spite of his conviction of the genuineness of the phenomena, Sinnett felt that they were not always surrounded by the necessary safeguards, and that it would not be very difficult for any thoroughgoing skeptic to cast doubt on their validity. He was eager to have some phenomenon produced which would, as he expressed it, "leave no opening for even the suggestion of imposture." He wondered whether the Mahatmas themselves might not always realize the necessity for rendering their test phenomena unassailable in every minor detail.
So, Sinnett wrote a letter "To the Unknown Brother," where he suggested a test which he was sure would be absolutely fool-proof and which could not fail to convince the most profound skeptic. A day or so after he handed the letter to Blavatsky, he told him he was to have an answer. This so encouraged him that he sat down and wrote a second letter, feeling that perhaps he had not made his first letter quite strong enough to convince his correspondent. After the lapse of another day or so, on the evening October 17, 1880, he found on his writing table the first letter coming from Mahatma K.H. This was the beginning of a correspondence that would last until 1885.
Why A. P. Sinnett?
Many of such helpful karmic links have we seen within the Theosophical Society. Long, long ago, He who is the Master K.H. was taken prisoner in a battle with an Egyptian army, and was generously befriended and sheltered by an Egyptian of high rank. Thousands of years later, help is needed for the nascent Theosophical Society, and the Master, looking over India for one to aid in this great work, sees His old friend of the Egyptian and other lives, now Mr. A.P. Sinnett, editing the leading Anglo-Indian newspaper, The Pioneer. Mr. Sinnett goes, as usual, to Simla; Mme Blavatsky goes up thither, to form the link; Mr. Sinnett is drawn within the immediate influence of the Master, receives instruction from Him, and becomes the author of The Occult World and of Esoteric Buddhism, carrying to thousands the message of Theosophy.
About their publication
From the letters it seems evident that the Masters did not want the letters to be published, at least not in their entirety. In the Summer of 1884 A. P. Sinnett wanted to publish the letters to prove critics that the source for his books was real, but Master K.H. wrote:
When our first correspondence began, there was no idea then of any publications being issued on the basis of the replies you might receive. You went on putting questions at random, and the answers being given at different times to disjointed queries, and so to say, under a semi-protest, were necessarily imperfect, often from different standpoints.
Therefore, to put before the world all the crude and complicated materials in your possession in the shape of old letters, in which, I confess, much was purposely made obscure, would only be making confusion worse confounded. Instead of doing any good thereby to yourself and others it would only place you in a still more difficult position, bring criticism upon the heads of the “Masters” and thus have a retarding influence on human progress and the T.S. Hence I protest most strongly against your new idea. . . My letters must not be published, in the manner you suggest, but . . . copies of some should be sent to the Literary Committee at Adyar . . . [so that it] might be able to utilise the information.
The letters, in short, were not written for publication or public comment upon them, but for private use, and neither M. nor I would ever give our consent to see them thus handled.
Even an "adept" when acting in his body is not beyond mistakes due to human carelessness. You now understand that he is as likely as not to make himself look absurd in the eyes of those who have no right understanding of the phenomena of thought-transference and astral precipitations — and all this, thro' lack of simple caution. There is always that danger if one has neglected to ascertain whether the words and sentences rushing into the mind have come all from within or whether some may have been impressed from without. . . . That was one of the reasons why, I had hesitated to give my consent to print my private letters and specifically excluded a few of the series from the prohibition. I had no time to verify their contents — nor have I now. I have a habit of often quoting, minus quotation marks — from the maze of what I get in the countless folios of our Akasic libraries, so to say — with eyes shut.
This prohibition was in regards the publication of the whole correspondence. It was desired that the information contained in the letters would be published in suitable ways, and several of the letters were even copied and circulated among Theosophists with the Master's permission. Master K.H. wrote to his chela Mohini:
You may, if you choose so, or find necessity for it, use . . . anything I may have said in relation to our secret doctrines in any of my letters to Messrs Hume or Sinnett. Those portions that were private have never been allowed by them to be copied by anyone; and those which are so copied have by the very fact become theosophical property. Besides, copies of my letters—at any rate those that contained my teachings—have always been sent by my order to Damodar and Upasika, and some of the portions even used in The Theosophist. You are at liberty to even copy them verbatim and without quotation marks—I will not call it ‘plagiarism’, my boy.
It is from one set of these copies that C. Jinarājadāsa published the book The Early Teachings of the Masters 1881 to 1883 some months before A. Trevor Barker published the complete collection of letters.
The original edition was transcribed and compiled by A. Trevor Barker, and printed in London by T. Fisher Unwin, in 1923. It had the letters in a topical arrangement. This edition is no longer in print.
The second edition, issued by Mr. Barker in January, 1926, corrected errors in the transcription of the letters, as explained in this Compiler's Preface. In 1930 the printing was taken over by Rider and Company, London, who in 1975 passed it on to the Theosophical University Press. In 1992, the Theosophical University Press issued an errata sheet based on their comparison with slides of the original letters. This edition is still in print.
The third and revised edition was edited by Christmas Humphreys and Elsie Benjamin and published in 1962 by the Theosophical Publishing House in Adyar, Chennai, India. These editors carefully compared the original letters, and also appealed for and received suggestions for correction and improvement from the worldwide Theosophical movement. Significant assistance came from C. Jinarajadasa, James Graham who collated and summarized the many suggestions sent in by students, and Boris de Zirkoff.
A fourth edition in chronological sequence was published in 1993 by the Theosophical Publishing House in the Philippines, edited by Vicente Hao Chin, Jr. The text of the letters follows that of the third edition (Preface, p. vi) but the letters are arranged and renumbered in chronological order following the second revised and enlarged edition of the Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. The fourth edition of the letters also includes brief notes by Virginia Hanson regarding the context and circumstances of each letter. In 1998 this edition was printed by the Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, and Wheaton (Quest Books).
Commentaries about the letters
History of the original letters and reproductions
When Mr. Sinnett died, his friend Maud Hoffman was heir and executor to his estate. She entrusted A. Trevor Barker with the task of publishing The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett and The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, both based on correspondence from the Sinnett estate. The original letters passed to the British Museum [now the British Library] in 1939 under the guardianship of the Mahatma Letters Trust:
Judge Christmas Humphreys [1901 - 1983] was the first Chairman of the Mahatma Letters Trust, which was established at the time the original letters of the Mahatmas to A.P. Sinnett were authenticated and then placed in the Department of Manuscripts at the British Museum. Rex [Dutta] served as Chairman following the death of Judge Humphreys. During his tenure Rex arranged for the Letters to be photographed in colour, thereby making them more readily accessible anywhere in the world. Members of Edmonton TS did a detailed study of The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett (transcribed and compiled by A.T. Barker) over a period of many years. We managed to obtain a set of slides of these photos, which added a very interesting dimension to our study.”
- Mahatma Letters Problems in Transmission by David Reigle
- Some Comments on Publication of The Mahatma Letters and HPB's Esoteric Writings by Daniel H. Caldwell
- The Mahatmas and Their Letters by Alvin Boyd Kuhn.
- "Foreword to the Combined Chronology of Margaret Conger" by Grace Knoche.
- Conger, Margaret. Combined Chronology (For use with the Mahatma and Blavatsky Letters). Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1973. "By reading the Letters chronologically, the student is better able to follow the flow of events, personalities, and teaching that marked the formative years of The Theosophical Society. Two important letters, not contained in either volume, are included: the First Letter from K.H. to A. O. Hume, and the 'View of the Chohan on the T.S.' as reported by K.H. to A. P. Sinnett."
- Mills, Joy. Reflections on an Ageless Wisdom: a Commentary on The Mahatma letters to A.P. Sinnett. Wheaton, Il: Theosophical Publishing House, 2010.
- The Mahatmas and Their Letters by Steve Schweizer
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 1 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 1.
- Annie Besant, A Study in Karma, (Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 48.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 128 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 428-429.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 130 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 433.
- Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom First Series No. 52 (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 112.
- Rogelle Pelletier, "Theosophical Friends Remembered" Fohat Spring 2007 Volume XI, Number 1.