C. W. Leadbeater
A Great Occultist
Compiled by Sandra Hodson and Mathias J. van Thiel
by Geoffrey Hodson
Since I find its title to be in complete harmony with my own views, I value the opportunity offered to me to contribute to this booklet. For me C. W. Leadbeater was indeed a self-illumined man and I feel privileged to participate in this defence, made on his behalf, concerning the charges levelled against him - especially the charge of self-delusion.
Two groups of people have been moved to draw attention to errors in a booklet written by Mr. E. L. Gardner entitled There Is No Religion Higher Than Truth. One of these consists of those whom C. W. Leadbeater had accepted, when younger, as suitable for training in the spiritual life. The other group comprises present members of the Theosophical Society who have felt moved to contradict the accusations made in the booklet.
The members of the first group acted from motives of loyalty, outrage at the untruthfulness of certain statements contained in the booklet, and in obedience to an ideal which their teacher had held up to them, namely "a valiant defence of those who are unjustly attacked". In their eyes Mr. Gardner's derogation of their teacher was not only unjust but also unjustifiable, because made not when the latter was alive and able to defend himself, if so moved, but after his death when he could no longer do so.
The members of the second group found in Mr. Gardner's publication such gross inaccuracies and misquotations from claimed authorities in support of the charges made that they published Articles, included in this booklet, in which these textual errors were exposed.
There Is No Religion Higher Than Truth is concerned largely with the affirmation made by its author - himself herein proven inexact - that C. W. Leadbeater was a self-deluded man, particularly in so far as his relationship with certain of the Adepts was concerned. In some of his books Mr. Leadbeater described physical and extra-physical meetings with Masters of the Wisdom and, when sufficiently prepared, presentations to Them of those who had become his pupils. In this connection Mr. Gardner has affirmed that Mr. Leadbeater himself created the figures of the Adepts, Their homes, surroundings and actions, by what he termed "unconscious kriyashakti". He did not, however, support this charge with any evidence based upon his own capacities for direct research in this field, and herein he differs greatly from Mr. Leadbeater, who spent the major part of his life in such re-search. Thus Mr. Gardner has offered no evidence of personal qualifications which would justify his denial of the truthfulness of Mr. Leadbeater's accounts, merely seeking to vindicate his statements by quotations from theosophical literature. Unfortunately for his case these quotations are found to be erroneous, as is pointed out in these pages.
Although not myself privileged to have been a pupil of C. W. Leadbeater, I met him personally on many occasions and throughout the fifty-six years of my membership of the Theosophical Society I have benefited very greatly from his writings. I therefore feel honoured to have been invited to add my words to those of the authors of this booklet. I am also grateful because, after careful consideration of the views advanced by Mr. Gardner and their rebuttals, and after conversation with Mr. Gardner himself, I find myself in complete disagreement with his thesis. Indeed, I cannot but regret that he chose to publish his charge of self-delusion against one whose whole life was utterly and selflessly devoted, as guide and teacher in the pursuit of truth, to the service of his fellow-men.
My regrets have been intensified by the discovery made as I travel of the harm which Mr. Gardner's booklet is doing within the Theosophical Society, especially to those who are seeking the light of truth in theosophical literature and lectures, and in the lives lived by Its members. Some of these enquirers were responding favourably to theosophical ideas, and so were very likely to accept a philosophy of life which is both logical and an inspiration to noble living. Unfortunately a number of such students have been turned away from these sources of knowledge by reading a booklet by an older Theosophist which makes the charge that one of the chief exponents of Theosophy in modern days was a self-deluded man. My own contribution, other than this Introduction, to a rebuttal of that charge consists of an Appreciation of C. W. Leadbeater, written in response to many requests.
Truth, it has been said, needs no defenders and by its very greatness will ultimately prevail. Even so, human agents eventually prove necessary, and it is surely a fine thing boldly to step forward as correctors of error and as defenders of those who are unjustly attacked. In my view grave injustice has been done to the late C.W. Leadbeater by Mr. Gardner's misstatements and misquotations. Harm has also resulted to the Theosophical Society, its members, and its actual and potential students. These, I understand, are the chief reasons for the writing and publication of this booklet. I associate myself with its contents, and trust that it will be widely read and accepted as a valid refutation of the accusations which Mr. Gardner has made.
by Hugh Shearman
Some of the matters dealt with in Mr. Gardner's booklet are in the realm of opinion and are, at least, not questions which can be examined in terms of evidence. But most of what he has written is an account of past events, and this has to be judged by ordinary standards of historical truth and accuracy. Is his account of these events true or not true? Is it consistent with evidence from other sources?
Dating the Events
"About forty-five years ago", the booklet begins, "an announcement of the Coming of the World Teacher was made by Mrs. Annie Besant and Bishop C. W. Leadbeater." Forty-five years before 1963, the year of the booklet's publication, brings us to 1918. Mr. Gardner attributed this announcement, which he says was made then, to the influence of Bishop Leadbeater exercised upon Mrs. Besant through letters written between 1916 and 1920, and to the fact that "in 1912 she (Mrs. Besant) shut herself off from investigation of the inner planes" and henceforth "loyally accepted the statements of Leadbeater and others."
This sounds very plausible, but it becomes complete nonsense when we find that Mrs. Besant made the announcement in 1910, when Leadbeater's letters were still unwritten and when she herself had not yet made the alleged abandonment of her powers of perception on "inner planes". The Order of the Star in the East, based upon that announcement, was spreading rapidly during 1911.
It is true that Mr. Leadbeater drew Mrs. Besant's attention to the potentiality of Krishnamurti (in 1909); but her first reaction to this was to have Krishnamurti and his brother to stay with her at Benares, so that she could form her own judgement on the matter. When she made the announcement in 1910, "She spoke", says Mr. N. Sri Ram, "with great assurance, as if she knew, and not as if she had been told by a colleague."*
*The Theosophist, Vol. 85, p. 285.
Mrs. Besant's Responsibility
But what about this alleged shutting off of Mrs. Besant's contact with the "inner planes" which Mr. Gardner said took place in 1912? According to Mrs. Besant herself, as we shall see, she did not shut herself off in the manner described and did not become dependent on others, as Mr. Gardner alleged.
Other people who were very close to her have recorded what occurred in terms which flatly contradict Mr. Gardner's account of this. Mr. Jinarajadasa wrote that Mrs. Besant renounced her habitual exercise of clairvoyance "soon after 1913 . . . but not completely, for . . . she knew how, when it was necessary that she should remember what happened on the other side, to make a special arrangement, so that when she returned from the higher worlds her brain would register the record."* A similar account is given by Josephine Ransom.+
Mrs. Besant, however, may be left to speak for herself. In March, 1922, since allegations were being made similar to those made by Mr. Gardner, Mrs. Besant issued a circular letter "To all Members of the Theosophical Society". In this she said: "My 'superphysical line of communication' with the Masters has never been broken . . . I could obtain, whenever necessary, the approval or disapproval of my Master on any point on which I was in doubt. And in very serious matters . . . I have impressed the facts on my physical brain, i.e. brought them into waking consciousness."(Ø) She also described how she had an arrangement with Bishop Leadbeater to verify and corroborate the more important experiences in which they both shared, by letters written at once and crossing one another in the post.
With regard to the question of Bishop Leadbeater's influence upon her, she wrote, "I ought to add that Bishop Leadbeater, whose work is on a different line, has never influenced me or sought to influence me on mine. In fact, as to my own work, he looks on me as the authority and conforms himself to the line I take, ready to help me if he can, as I am ever ready to help him in his work. Each has his own 'job' and obeys his own Chief."§
Mrs. Ransom, who in the course of research went through the diaries and correspondence of Bishop Leadbeater at Adyar and the letters that passed between him and Mrs. Besant, has reported: "From Bishop Leadbeater's letters to Dr. Besant over very many years, it is clear that in all official matters he waited upon her lead, ready and willing to uphold her decisions. As to his own work, he shouldered all the responsibility. In 'occult matters' and instructions, they exchanged and checked experiences, both being very careful to be as accurate as possible." ?
When Mrs. Besant made announcements with respect to the "Coming", she made them in terms which implied that they came from her own inner knowledge or from specific orders received from a Superior, not as if they came from anybody else. Her most remarkable announcement on the subject was made at Ommen in the Netherlands in 1925?, while Bishop Leadbeater was at Sydney, Australia. The testimony of those present with him at Sydney, such as Mrs. Ransom, was that the announcements which Mrs. Besant then made at Ommen were as much news to him as to anybody else, and he had clearly no part in formulating them.
In connection with what Bishop Leadbeater wrote in The Masters and the Path, Mrs. Besant did not merely, as Mr. Gardner put it, give a "whole-hearted endorsement of his views". She stated that she had herself shared the experiences described by Bishop Leadbeater, or had had similar experiences. In the Foreword to The Masters and the Path she wrote, " . . . I desire to associate myself with the statements made in this book, for the accuracy of nearly all of which I can personally vouch . . . ".
Thus Mrs. Besant repeatedly claimed that she acted out of her own experience and her own inner prompting. It is not here a question of whether Mrs. Besant was right or wrong, wise or foolish, in what she did; but the point is that she did it on her own responsibility and motivation, and not under the influence or at the bidding of another person. Without providing any evidence to support his claim, and propping it up with an entirely untrue description of the timing of events, Mr. Gardner ignored or treated as mendacious what Mrs. Besant herself has said. But a certain level of testimony from the individuals actually involved in a past event has to be respected until it is proved untrue. On the evidence so far available, it would appear that the major responsibility in the matter of publicly announcing the "Coming" was Mrs. Besant's, not Bishop Leadbeater's.
Again quite without evidence, Mr. Gardner said that Mrs. Besant merely "accepted . . . in good faith" what was told to her by Bishop Leadbeater about the founding of the Liberal Catholic Church; and again she herself tells a very different story. In her letter "To all Members of the Theosophical Society" she specifically mentioned "the three activities" [which included the Liberal Catholic Church] as one of those matters in which she herself had independently verified what was told to her.*
As a final thrust in his argument about Mrs. Besant's dependence on others, Mr. Gardner employed the old and generally discredited device of giving a vague ex parte summary of a conversation with a person long dead. Since more than thirty years were allowed to lapse before Mr. Gardner acted in any way upon that conversation with Mrs. Besant, one is naturally inclined to feel that it must have been rather different from what he later imagined it to have been, and that the reminiscences of a man who saw events in 1910 being set in motion by letters written from 1916 onwards may not be entirely reliable.
*Op. Cit. p. 7.
Passing on from Mr. Gardner's handling of persons, we can consider now his handling of the documents offered as sources. He referred first to letters written between 1916 and 1920 which had "but recently come to my knowledge" and which he said had "recently been examined". Though no proper reference is given, it seems to be generally understood that these are the few letters published as long ago as 1952 by Mr. Jinarajadasa under the title On The Liberal Catholic Church, and this also seems to be what Mr. Gardner referred to when he wrote of questions put by Bishop Leadbeater to the Master K.H. It is very misleading to refer to these things in terms of portentous mystery, as if long researches had unearthed some kind of theosophical Dead Sea Scrolls. The uninformed could imagine that Mr. Gardner had discovered something.
In his observations on "unconscious kriyashakti" Mr. Gardner made quotations said to be from Madame Blavatsky's writing in The Secret Doctrine. Reference to the text will show that these are only from "Notes on some oral teachings" included at the end of The Secret Doctrine after H.P.B.'s death. We do not know who wrote the notes, but they were certainly not part of the text' of The Secret Doctrine as she wrote and published it. Students of The Secret Doctrine, as it came from H. P. B. herself, are likely to conclude that she used the term "unconscious kriyashakti" to refer to something different from what Mr. Gardner had in mind.
The Mahatma Letters
More important and significant, however, was Mr. Gardner's use of quotations from two "Letters" in The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett. He quoted them as if they were the actual words of the two Masters. In Letter No.53 of The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett we are told that the normal custom was to give the task of delivering such letters to a chela or pupil, "and if not absolutely necessary - to never give it a thought. Very often our very letters - unless something very important and secret--are written in our handwritings by our chelas." Madam Blavatsky declared that "It is hardly one out of a hundred occult letters that is ever written by the hand of the Master in whose name and on whose behalf they are sent."* A. P. Sinnett wrote of a time when, H.P.B. told him, "the Masters had stood aside and left everything to various chelas, including freedom to use the blue handwriting."+ In a letter to Frau Gebhard, H.P.B. admitted that she had represented letters as coming direct from the Masters when she had known that they were only the work of chelas, and said that she had been "shocked and startled, burning with shame when shown notes written in Their handwritings . . . exhibiting mistakes in science, grammar and thoughts, expressed in such language that it perverted entirely the meaning originally intended." (Ø) She also stated that there had been cases where chelas had taken "ideas" for the Letters out of her (H.P.B.'s) own head. Sinnett wrote that "The correspondence as a whole is terribly contaminated by what one can only treat as Madame Blavatsky's own mediumship in the matter . . . It must always be remembered that correspondence from a Master, precipitated through the mediumship of a chela, cannot always be regarded as His ipsissima verba,"?
This being the nature of the obscure and composite authorship of the Mahatma Letters, it is not possible to show that any particular passage authentically represents the Master Himself. Passing now from the Letters in general to the passages used by Mr. Gardner, his first quotation was from Letter No. 10, which he stated was "signed by the Master K.H." Reference to the published text, however, shows that this was not a Letter, was not signed and does not exist in the K.H. handwriting. It is a set of "abridged" notes on a Chapter that had been written by A. 0. Hume, and is in the handwriting of A. P. Sinnett. Mr. Gardner showed that he was not entirely happy about this "Letter", for he tried to improve on it a little by slightly altering the wording. This was exposed in detail by the Rt. Rev. Marijn Brandt in St. Michael's News for April, 1964.
The second quotation, stated by Mr. Gardner to be the words of the Master M., is from the document published as Letter No. 134 in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. This Letter was not written by the Master M. nor signed by Him. It was written down by H.P.B. At the beginning of the Letter she seems to represent herself as taking it down from dictation, but later she describes herself as "translating" His meaning. In the case of any ordinary document which was variously described as the result of dictation or of translation, there would be some doubt as to how far it conveyed the meaning originally intended.
Already we have seen that Sinnett believed that H.P.B.'s own influence got into the Letters, and she herself admitted that some of her "ideas" found their way into them. Anyway, when Letter No. 134 was published Colonel Olcott denied its authenticity as a true expression of the Master and wrote of it in The Theosophist of April, 1895, that it "grossly violates that basic principle of neutrality and eclecticism on which the T.S. has built itself from the beginning." With all this background, it would be unreasonable to expect the quoted words to be accepted seriously as the words of the two Masters.
Mr. Gardner implied that C. W. Leadbeater was not familiar with "Letter No.10" because it was published only in 1923. It is almost certain that he was acquainted with it, as he was the recipient of copies from Sinnett and it was these copies that Mr. Jinarajadasa used to prepare the first draft of The Early Teachings of the Masters, in which he included "Letter No. 10".* Bishop Leadbeater himself made his attitude towards the Mahatma Letters quite clear in his little book, Messages from the Unseen. He regarded them as written largely by chelas, and he quoted H.P.B. to that effect.
The Theosophical Society and its President
Apart from the publication of actual misstatements, it is possible in various ways to convey an impression which is so false that it amounts to a misstatement. Many will feel that Mr. Gardner and his publishers have done this in two respects. One is by the incorporation of material written some time previously by Mr. N. Sri Ram, President of the Theosophical Society. Though no claim is made verbally, the way in which this excerpt is embodied in the booklet tends to convey the impression that the President of the Theosophical Society endorses and approves of the opinions of Mr. Gardner, or even endorses as true Mr. Gardner's description of past events. This is, in fact, the opposite of the truth. In The Theosophist of February, 1964, Mr. Sri Ram completely dissociated himself, both in general and in particular, from those views and opinions after he had seen the booklet.
The other false impression is that which is created by using the Motto of the 'Theosophical Society-"There is no Religion Higher than Truth"-as the title of the booklet. It conveys the idea that the booklet is somehow "official", and also that it is truthful, when it is actually neither.
The Testimony of Others
It is a rule of scientifically written history that all relevant evidence must be taken into account before a final conclusion is offered. On some of the matters to which Mr. Gardner referred it would be difficult to assess the value of the evidence that is available, since it consists of testimony relating to individual experiences of a highly subjective nature. But to ignore that testimony and write as if it did not exist amounts to a suppression of the truth. Thus Mr. Gardner wrote, "Obviously there has been no Coming." That this was not obvious to many people who were close to Krishnamurti is evident from many personal testimonies. It will suffice to quote one of these as an example. Miss Clara Codd, writing on the nature of love, wrote: "I knew and remember something of what that Divine Love - agape - is, from that wonderful meeting in Benares, long years ago, when Krishnaji was overshadowed. I seemed to see then, momentarily, through the eyes of the Lord Christ, the Buddha Maitreya, the World Teacher, and I knew then that with Him was no shadow or sense of difference, no big or small, no important or unimportant. All were equally important, equally dear."*
Such a statement is not something that can be evidentially proved, but equally this type of testimony cannot wholly be left out of account, nor should it - in a Society devoted to brotherhood, truth and the communication of experience - be, as it were, shouted down or devalued and obscured by a mass of untrue statements.
In another place Mr. Gardner stated that "the Lord Maitreya and the Masters with whom Leadbeater was on such familiar terms were his own thought-creations." Again this is perhaps not a matter that it would be easy to prove evidentially one way or another; but one cannot ignore or with honesty suppress the fact that Bishop Leadbeater's testimony on this subject was supported by that of many other people, including three successive Presidents of the Theosophical Society.
*The Way of the Disciple, p.255, Clara Codd.
ConclusionThus at a strictly factual level this booklet sins against the light in many ways. It is profoundly inaccurate in its presentation of facts. It reaches its conclusions by falsifying the time and order in which events occurred. Without offering any evidence, it makes statements about Mrs. Besant which she specifically denied in her lifetime as untrue. It places much dependence on already discredited sources, and in one case tampers with a source by alteration and omission. It omits any reference to the existence of substantial testimony pointing to conclusions quite other than those of its writer, and it is set forth in such a way as to compromise the Theosophical Society and its President.
Part of the booklet consists of opinions which it is anybody's privilege to accept or reject. But opinions which have to be supported by such untruthful and distorted descriptions of past events and of the actions and motives of the people concerned, and by such misuse of printed sources, are likely to commend themselves only to the very credulous.
It is sad that Mr. Gardner, in trying to reconstruct the past, relied on the hindsight of his own advanced age - a more clouded hindsight than he realised - and did not seek the help of anybody able to gather information by ordinary scientific and objective methods of research.