Mahatma Letter No. 8

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Quick Facts
People involved
Written by: A. O. Hume
Received by: Koot Hoomi/A. P. Sinnett
Sent via: A. P. Sinnett/H. P. Blavatsky
Written on: November 20, 1880 See below.
Received on: December 1, 1880 See below.
Other dates: unknown
Sent from: Simla, India
Received at: Allahabad, India, by A. P. Sinnett
Via: unknown 

This is Letter No. 8 in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, 4th chronological edition. It corresponds to Letter No. 99 in Barker numbering. See below for Context and background.

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Page 1 transcription, image, and notes

NOTE - Ellipsis in printed text has been added back from letter image, printed in boldface.

Simla. 20-11-80.

My Dear Koot Humi,

I have sent Sinnett your letter to me and he has kindly sent me yours to him. I want to make some remarks on this, not by way of cavil, but because I am so anxious that you should understand me. Very likely it is my conceit, but whether or no I have a deep rooted conviction that I could work effectually if I only saw my way, and I cannot bear the idea of your throwing me over under any misconception of my views. And yet every letter I see of yours, shows me that you do not yet realize what I think and feel.* To explain this I venture to jot down a few comments on your letter to Sinnett.

You say that if Russia does not succeed in taking Tibet, it will be due to you and herein at least you will deserve our gratitude — I do not agree to this in the sense in which you mean it. (1) If I thought that Russia would on the whole govern Tibet or India in such wise as to make the inhabitants on the whole happier than they are under the existing Gov[ernmen]ts, I would myself welcome and work for her advent. But so far as I can judge the Russian Gov[ernmen]t is a corrupt despotism, hostile to individual liberty of action and therefore to real progress. And it would only be in common with all well wishers of mankind & not as an Englishman (& indeed I have no nationality) that I should feel gratitude to you or anyone else who by legitimate means (& what are under different



Page 2

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sets of circumstances legitimate & illegitimate means may be a matter open to argument) prevented the further extension of a power, which is essentially hostile to the highest interests of humanity. Then about the English-speaking vaquil. Was the man so much to blame? You and yours have never taught him that there was any thing in Yog Vidya. The only people who have taken the trouble to educate him at all have in so doing taught him materialism. You are disgusted with him, but who is to blame? He who having no teaching but a materialistic one, rejects as dreams, the vague rumours that have reached him as to spiritual possibilities, or you (I mean your brotherhood) who knowing all about these have failed to popularize the knowledge, have in fact failed to teach him better? I judge perhaps as an outsider, but it does seem to me, that the impenetrable veil of secrecy by which you surround yourselves, the enormous difficulties which you oppose to the communication of your spiritual knowledge, are the main causes of the rampant materialism which you so much deplore. You are the only people who possess any real experimental knowledge of things spiritual -- doubtless millions upon millions possess a sort of knowledge of these thro faith, pure life, meditation and in fact the higher discipline of all religions worthy of the name. But this knowledge of theirs tho sufficing to their own souls, is not of a character to produce objective results, or tangible arguments, that they can appeal to in order to lead others by nature less spiritually minded to similar convictions to their own. You alone do possess the means of bringing home to the ordinary run of men, convictions of this nature,



Page 3

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but you, apparently bound by ancient rules, so far from zealously disseminating this knowledge, envelope it in such a dense cloud of mystery, that naturally the mass of mankind, disbelieve in its existence. And this veil of secrecy is I submit an anachronism. It may have been very necessary in former days when the exhibition of the powers possessed by adepts might have led to prosecutions or persecutions. But now when in the most highly civilized countries, such exhibitions would at worse entail ridicule & abuse (both of which the inexorable logic of facts would surely even tho slowly strangle) there can be no justification for not giving clearly to the world the more important features of your philosophy, accompanying the teaching with such a series of demonstrations as should ensure the attention of all sincere minds. That you should hesitate to confer hastily great powers too likely to be abused, I quite understand — but this in no way bars a dogmatic enunciation of the results of your psychical investigations, accompanied by phenomena, sufficiently clear and often repeated to prove that you really did know more of the subjects with which you dealt than Western Science does. (2)

Perhaps you will retort "how about Slade's case?" but do not forget that he was taking money for what he did; making a living out of it. Very different would be the position of a man, who came forward to teach gratuitously, manifestly at the sacrifice of his own time, comfort and convenience, what he believed it to be for the good of mankind to know. At first no doubt everyone would say the man was mad or an impostor — but then when phenomenon on phenomenon was repeated and repeated, they would have to admit there was something in it, and within three years, you would have all the foremost minds in any civilized country intent upon the question and tens of thousands of anxious enquirers out of whom ten per cent. might prove useful workers, and one in a thousand perhaps develop the necessary qualifications for becoming ultimately an adept. If you desire to react on the native through the European mind that is the way to work it. Of course, I speak under correction and in ignorance of conditions, possibilities, etc., but



  • Slade's case refers to Dr. Henry Slade, an American medium who became rich by touring the world, demonstrating psychic phenomena.

Page 4

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for this ignorance at any rate I am not to blame. Then you say - "It is not possible that there should be much more at best than a benevolent neutrality shown by your people towards ours. There is so very minute a point of contact between the two civilizations they respectively represent that one might almost say they could not touch at all" Now is this correct? Is it not in the first place misleading to talk of two civilizations? All civilizations have the same necessary ingredients, mental & moral (or if you prefer it a spiritual) culture. The one element may predominate here, the other there, but in both cases there must be a vast am[oun]t in common. Essential to every civilization in any way deserving of the name is the intellectual culture necessary for the discrimination of the good, the true & the beautiful & the moral culture essential to the adherence at all cost to these in preference to their opposites. In the one country there may be less intellectual capacity & a purer devotion to the more dimly perceived truths, in the other it may be more of "Meliora videon proboque, deteriora sequor" but in both the essentials are the same & it appears to me to be a contradiction in terms to talk of two civilizations which may almost be said not to touch at all. Nor is this a mere matter of words, for starting with such ideas failure is a certainty, whereas if the vast am[oun]t that is common to both be realized & recognized & if we seek to build on this common foundation, an active cooperation in lieu of a benevolent neutrality becomes not only a possibility, but is a thing that may be commanded. (3)

Then I come to the passage, "Has it occurred to you that the two Bombay publications if not influenced may at least have not been prevented by those who might have done so because they saw the necessity for that much agitation to effect the double result of making a needed diversion after the brooch grenade, & perhaps of trying the strength



  • "Video meliora, proboque, deteriora sequor" is a Latin phrase found in the writings of the Roman poet known as Ovid, meaning "I see better things, and approve, but I follow worse."

Page 5

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of your personal interest in occultism and theosophy? I do not say it was, I but enquire whether the contingency ever presented itself to your mind." Now of course this was addressed to Sinnett, but still I wish to answer it in my fashion. First I should say, cui bono throwing out such a hint? You must know whether it was so or not. If it was not, why set us speculating as to whether it may have been, when you know it was not. But if it was so, then I submit, that in the first place an idiotic business like this could be no test of any man's (there are of course lots of human beings who are only a sort of educated monkey) personal interest in anything. Would any man, who felt ever the slightest interest in anything, suffer this interest to be affected by the fact that some other person made themselves ridiculous in connexion there with? In the second place if the Brothers did deliberately allow the publication of those letters, I can only say, that from my worldly non-initiated standpoint, I think they made a sad mistake. A cause may involve murder & robbery and yet not be wholly discredited but make it ridiculous & you may write its epitaph. Mind I do not for one moment defend this. It is monstrous that it should be so - but it is unfortunately a fact, and the object of the Brothers being avowedly to make the T.S. respected, they could hardly have selected any worse means, than the publication of these foolish letters. I do not of course attach any very great importance to them - if there be a real vital breath underlying the T. S. (& it is this I am truly trying to arrive at), it will outlive & smother a hundred such bévues - magna est veritas et prevalebit. But still when the question is broadly put, did you ever consider whether the Brothers allowed this publication, I cannot avoid replying, if they did not, it is futile wasting consideration on the matter, and if they did, it seems to me that they were unwise in so doing. (4)

Then come your remarks about Colonel Olcott. Dear old Olcott, whom everyone who knows must love. I fully sympathize in all you say



  • cui bono Latin expression meaning, "to whom (is it) a benefit?"
  • bévues is a French word indicating errors committed inadvertently or in ignorance.
  • "Magna est veritas et praevalebit" means "Truth is mighty, and will prevail."

Page 6

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in his favour — but I cannot but take exception to the terms in which you praise him, the whole burthen of which is that he never questions but always obeys. This is the Jesuit organization over again. And this renunciation of private judgment, this abnegation of one's own personal responsibility, this accepting the dictates of outside voices as a substitute for one's own conscience, is to my mind a sin of no ordinary magnitude & involves a principle inimical to all true civilization. Moreover I venture to predict that such system of passive obedience will never obtain the cooperation of the highest minds in any society. Nay further I feel bound to say that if as I seem to gather from many incidental passages in our letters, this doctrine of blind obedience is an essential one in your system, I greatly doubt whether any spiritual light it may confer can compensate mankind for the loss of that private freedom of action, that sense of personal, individual responsibility of which it would deprive them. Nay further I take, unless I wholly misread the teachings of history and the spirit of the age, any organization, which has for the key note passive obedience is itself doomed. (5)

Now for the first time I begin to get a glimpse of what you probably mean by what you so often allude to as the irreconcilable nature of Eastern and Western Ideas. Truly despotism is of the East[;] Freedom of the West. But I confess that I have hitherto been unable to conceive the possibility of a brotherhood like yours accepting as a tenet the principle that underlies all despotisms. Yet when your highest praise is bestowed, not on someone who wisely & cleverly works out a good end but on one who amidst the inescapable errors "always obeys and never questions" what else can I conclude?



Page 7

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And here I must take my stand - as for physical matters, when where or what one eats or sucks, where or how one lives or sleeps, these are all accidentals - matters of no earthly consequence provided my health does not seriously suffer, I would as soon live on herbs & water & sleep & live in a cave or a mud hut if any good was to come of it, as in any other ways. But if it be intended that I shall ever, get instructions to do this or that and without understanding the why or the wherefore, without scrutinizing consequences, blind and heedless, straightway go and do it — then frankly the matter for me is at an end. I am no military machine. I am an avowed enemy of the military organization — friend and advocate of the industrial or co-operative system, and I will join no Society or no Body which purports to limit or control my right of private judgment. Of course I am not a doctrinaire,!? and do not desire to ride any principle as a hobby horse. Where a matter is immaterial, i.e. as far as my unaided judgement enables me to discern can do no harm - then if the persons who asked me to do it were persons in whose good faith & capacity I had confidence I should like Olcott be quite willing to obey & ask no questions. But if the thing was material, & either involves consequences which I could not clearly forsee, or appears to me wrong or unwise, then I should most distinctly refuse to obey unless the "hakims" were willing to explain to me the reasons for their "hukum" & make it clear to me that despite any previous doubts, it was really the right thing to do.

To return to OlcottI do not think his connection with the proposed Society would be any evil. Sinnett thinks this I believe - I do not - given any real vital principle as a basis to the Society & nobody's connections with it could do any very permanent harm. So I quite agree in all you say about this. But when you go on to say "But if you now so dislike the idea of a purely nominal executive supervision by Col Olcott - an American of your own race - you would surely rebel against dictation from a Hindoo" you must entirely mistake my feelings at any rate.



  • doctrinaire,!? The underlining and punctuation marks have been added by the Master.
  • Hakim is a Muslim honorific title used for a leader or ruler of an area.
  • Hukum or Hukam is a Punjabi word meaning "command" or "divine order."

Page 8

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In the first place I should not object in any way to dear old Olcott's supervision, because I know it would be nominal, as even if he tried to make it otherwise, Sinnett and I are both quite capable of shutting him up if he interfered needlessly. But neither of us could accept him as our real guide (6), because we both know that we are intellectually his superiors. This is a brutal way, as the French would say, of putting it, but que voulez vous?. Without perfect frankness there is no coming to an understanding.
Truly I should object to the dictation not only of a Hindoo but of any human being - I allow no man to dictate to me. But if a Hindoo comes to me and gives me good advice, and shows me reasons why I should do this or should not do the other I should be as readily guided by that advice as tho it had come from an English man or a French man.

So far as I am concerned the words "whose race you have not yet learnt even to tolerate let alone to love or respect" have no application. I do not love the low lying mookhtears and vaquils, the khitmutgars and the bulk of the lower class officials & employees, Hindoo's or Mohammedans. Nor do I love any more the similar classes in Germany France or England. Nor do I love the self seeking, fawning, money lenders and the like, who constitute the majority of those who crowd about us official Englishmen. I am civil to them, I try, to be kind to them, but I do not like or respect them, not because they are Hindoos Sikhs or Mohammedans, but because they are self seekers. Mean, Base, and because their presence sits on me like a nightmare and weighs down my own thoughts. But there have been natives Hindoos and Mohammedans whom I have loved and respected as much as I could have loved and respected any European. There is no question of race or colour or creed at all. It is a mere question of intrinsic qualities - "sifaten".
When you say that your highest adepts are "greasy Tibetans & Punjabi Singhs" and that "the lion is proverbially a dirty and offensive beast", I presume you are joking. If not, tho a diamond is a diamond, and I should prize it equally however badly set. I should prefer to get it suitably set; and tho purity of soul is the one great first requisite, & all other things comparatively insignificant, yet in its way purity and cleanliness of body is not to be despised and I confess that I think the perfect jewell, the pure stone set in the pure clean body, the thing



  • Mookhtear may refer to the Nepali term "Mukhtiyar," meaning the "Executive Head of the State," or to the Arabic "Mukhtar," meaning the head of a village.
  • Vaquil (more commonly spelled as "vakil") refers to an official or ambassador.
  • Khitmutgar is a waiter.
  • Sifat means attributes, qualities in Arabic.
  • French "que voulez-vous?" translates as: "what can you do?"

Page 9

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to aim at. Old, mean, clothes are one thing (though when a man can dress in plain ones I cannot see why he should not), but dirtiness of body is another and I do not believe that where this can be avoided, it should be permitted. And in fact I am unable to believe that any adept can be really dirty or offensive. But even were this so, this would not in the smallest degree repel me, once I knew that it was really an adept I was dealing with and that as foul as the exterior husk might be, the true good seed was within.

I am quite sure that if you are true and genuine, and I believe you to be, the kindly feelings that this correspondence has engendered toward you would be in no way weakened, but rather strengthened by personal intercourse with you. I hardly see people's outsides. I often know and care for people without hardly knowing what they are like in body. Men mostly think a great deal of women's looks - and I have been sometimes surprised when promising a woman to a man, at being told "look she may be very good but she is awfully plain" and then again on looking carefully at my lady friend to discover, tho I had never known it that she was awfully plain. So I am quite certain that nothing in your external personal appearance could in the smallest degree affect my sentiments.

As for your dear dirty neophyte, I wish he had been sent to me, dirty pagri and all, and it would have gone hard with me, if while learning from him higher things, I had not been able to convert him to my views of the beauty and goodness of cleanliness.



  • "Pagri" is the term for a "turban" within India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Page 10

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The most important point of your letter to me is that wherein you say "powerless to send you a neophyte before you have pledged yourself to us". Here perhaps is the real crux. What is the pledge you require? All seems to turn upon this. If it is merely to preserve entire secrecy as to all that we may learn, and is to yourselves, and your followers, never without permission to utilize any knowledge gained from you and always to act in accordance with your wishes in all cases in which it does not seem to be wrong to do so, I at least think that if satisfied on the points referred to in former letters, I could give it. And if I did give it I would abide by it come what might. But if it is the old surrender of "dhun, man, fan[?]" proposed to me twenty years ago, then I for one will never give it. I feel that I am responsible to higher than earthly intelligences. I don't pretend to know what they are. But I know that they exist, as certainly as I know that sugar is sweet to my taste, tho I can prove neither fact to anyone else. I will resign that responsibility into no earthly hands.

On the other hand, I do not care to play at Theosophy. Either I go in for it in real earnest or not at all. If my stricture of the right of private judgment renders the real earnest impossible under your rules - well and good - the thing must be at an end for me. 

It seems to me useless to discuss articles of association and the like unless these fundamental questions are first settled. Sinnett is deeply interested in the phenomena as such. I am not. He thinks



Page 11

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it marvellous that things should be done which can not be accounted for by any laws known to Western science. I, as I have explained in former letters do not - perhaps I realize more acutely the vastness of our ignorance. I do not care two straws for the powers or the phenomena, except as a means. I do not see the slightest prospect of any good coming of the Society, unless it is to be a real & certain stepping stone to higher spiritual knowledge. He does - each man must judge for himself - he I know will wholly disagree with me on many points - but this letter I send thro' him & he will speak for himself.
I am almost sorry that I have wearied you with these long letters for I seem to feel, that I am too essentially a radical at heart, to be acceptable to your naturally conservative order - but you will forgive me in that I am in earnest & tho' nothing further ever come of our interchange of thoughts, think kindly of me as I always shall of you as being fellow workers in the same cause, albeit under different flags, & you an officer & engineer & I a mere day labourer.

Yours sincerely,

A. O. Hume.



Context and background

According to George Linton and Virginia Hanson, "AOH was probably in Simla. APS was in Allahabad. The Founders were on tour in Northwest India. While in Lahore, HPB became ill with a fever. See ODL 2:266 for HSO's account of this illness."[1]

Letter No. 8 (ML-99) and No. 9 (ML-98) have to be considered together. Letter No. 8 is dated November 20, 1880, but it was not transmitted to the Mahatma until Dec. 1, 1880 or later. Letter No. 9 was received on Dec. 1, 1880 or shortly thereafter, on the same date that Letter No. 8 was transmitted to K.H. Letter No. 8 is from Hume to the Mahatma; Letter No. 9 is a reply to that letter, but is directed to Sinnett rather than to Hume.

This may seem confusing. In The Occult World, p. 122, Sinnett mentions that Hume wrote a long reply to the Mahatma’s first letter to him, and subsequently an additional letter to K.H. which he forwarded to Sinnett, asking him to read it and then seal it up and send or give it to H.P.B. for transmittal, since she was expected soon at Allahabad. Letter No. 8 is this additional letter.[2]

A footnote in the first three editions reads, "Extracts only are given from this letter." We are offering here the complete transcription for the first time.

Physical description of letter

The original is in the British Library, Folio 3. According to George Linton and Virginia Hanson,

ML-99 is a letter from AOH to KH, forwarded to APS by KH with his comments thereon (ML-98). AOH's letter is in black ink on folded paper.[3]

Publication history

Commentary about this letter


  1. George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, eds., Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 47.
  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), 43.
  3. George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, eds., Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 43.