The Theosophical Society in America

HPB in Today's Russia

Printed in the Summer 2015issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Abbasova, Pyarvin."HPB in Today's Russia" Quest 103.3 (Summer 2015): pg. 112-113.

By Pyarvin Abbasova

Pyarvin AbbasovaIf one tries to understand Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's role in today's world, it is important to know how she is viewed in her native country — Russia. Hated, loved, highly revered by some and humiliated by others, she never found acceptance or support in her homeland. Her sister Vera wrote that HPB "was homesick to the last days, her heart was aching for the coming future of Russia."

I can't help but wonder if she knew it would take over a hundred years for her good name to be restored, pulled out of the dirt, and cleared of all lies and superstitions, because this is exactly what is happening now. I think she knew. In fact, it might have been one of the reasons she kept on working so hard, despite all imaginable and unimaginable obstacles.

Many of our brothers and sisters know the sad history of the Theosophical movement in the U.S.S.R. Along with mainstream religion, anything spiritual or esoteric was considered to be a threat to the regime. The Theosophists in the U.S.S.R. truly went through a trial by fire. At the beginning they were under the wing of A.V. Lunacharsky, head of the department of education, who publicly pretended to be an atheist but in real life was very much devoted to occult studies and mysticism. But after 1927, massive repressions of the TS started, which led to the closing of all lodges and the incarceration of most members by 1931.

There is a beautiful novel, written by Concordia Antarova (1886--1959) and entitled Two Lives, that unfortunately has never been translated into English. The author describes the beginning of the Theosophical Society; the Masters; secret communities started by arhats in deserts and remote areas of the world; the way of life in these communities; and the path of the neophyte. The personalities of HPB, H.S. Olcott, Annie Besant, and C.W. Leadbeater, along with their interaction with Masters, are described in detail and with much love.

Antarova was a famous opera singer (contralto) and a faithful student of the celebrated theater director K.S. Stanislavsky. She worked in both the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters as a leading voice. Her spiritual beliefs were well-known, and the only reason she managed to escape prison was that Stalin himself was a fan of her unique voice. She was constantly watched, and Two Lives, written during World War II, was published only in 1993. Until then handwritten copies were distributed to those hungry for occult knowledge. Antarova has admitted herself that the main characters of the book — the Great Souls who have completed their evolution on the earth but who remain here to help the humanity — came in contact with her during the war and kept in touch till her last days. It was they who revealed events of the past and helped her in writing the book through clairaudience. Today this book is not only popular, it is also a gateway title for many seekers who could otherwise never find Theosophy or the work of Blavatsky.

Works of people like Antarova and Helena and Nicholas Roerich became widely available only after the communist regime fell in 1991. Without the dedication and enthusiasm of these individuals, the ideas of Helena Petrovna would remain unknown outside of a narrow circle. Although much of this work was accomplished by HPB herself, her followers have played an even bigger part: translations, commentaries, handwritten copies, underground publishing. Keep in mind not only that these efforts brought no financial gain but also put them in danger of imprisonment. Future generations are truly indebted for the early members' selfless service to Theosophical ideals.

Today there are many more possibilities for the development of the TS and spreading the words and ideas of Helena Petrovna than there were a hundred, fifty, or even twenty years ago. With the invention of the Internet and increasing numbers of English-speaking Russians, it is easier than ever to get all the information one needs from the convenience of home, and I am happy to see that many people are using these opportunities.

Since 1992, interest in the work of Blavatsky has been constantly increasing. Many books, including her collected writings, talks, and articles, have been published and can be found in every bookstore that has an esoteric or spiritual shelf. Every year new editions and commentaries are being published. I did some research and found a Russian YouTube channel with videos and movies about HPB and lectures of Russian Theosophists; many groups and online communities in the social network VK (similar to Facebook) that have thousands of followers, with information and audiobooks posted on a daily and weekly basis; and Web sites where one can download and read books and articles for free. Practically all the Web sites of the different spiritual organizations have pages about Helena Petrovna or references to her work.

An interesting difference between the U.S. and Russia is that in the U.S., it is mostly people over forty or fifty who are interested in Theosophy, but in Russia it is teenagers, students, and people in their twenties who are reading Blavatsky's work. In Siberia her name is very well-known. I have heard it mentioned in yoga studios, energy healing workshops, and even psychotherapy trainings.

Despite the rising public interest in Blavatsky, there is very little interest in the Theosophical Society, which is a paradox that is perplexing to me. It would be logical to assume that the TS would be gaining a lot of new members, but the opposite is happening. Most people who think along Theosophical lines, respect HPB, are familiar with her, and have similar views either don't know of the Society's existence or are afraid to be associated with it. The reasons for the latter can be found in the 1990s. In the newly established country, all sorts of occult and pseudo-occult groups were flourishing. A large portion of them turned out to be scams, cults, or criminal schemes. The memories of these turbulent times are still alive in the mind of the nation, so there is a lot of skepticism and very little trust in spiritual organizations.

Unfortunately, there is also resistance from the Russian Orthodox church, whose officials still openly criticize HPB and Theosophy, sometimes coming up with quite comical reasons to support their position. Most educated people with common sense and a sense of humor just laugh at these statements. On the other hand, there are also deeply religious people who are attracted to Theosophy but refrain from the spiritual search because it is against the advice of Orthodox leaders. Indeed Helena Petrovna had a difficult relationship with the Orthodox church, but so did Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, even though their books are still respected and are part of school programs.

A lot has been done in Russia. There is still much to be done. As the country is facing another turbulent period, I hope that the work of HPB and the Theosophical Society is not going to be targeted by propaganda and political or religious persecution. We Russians have come very far, and it would be heartbreaking to see a backlash now.

All this said, I want to add that despite difficulties on the path, spiritual truth cannot stay hidden for long. It will always find a vessel to run its clear waters through. Helena Petrovna was such a vessel. Now it is time to pick up her work.

Pyarvin Abbasova, M.D., was born and raised in Siberia. She is a psychiatrist and yoga teacher and has been a member of the TS since 2009. She has been a longtime volunteer at Pumpkin Hollow Retreat Center, where she is currently a resident. Her article "Altered States of Consciousness" appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Quest.