Masters of Wisdom: The Mahatmas, Their Letters, and the Path

Edward Abdill
New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2015. 288 pp., hardcover, $16.95.

What is a Mahatma? Helena Petrovna Blavatsky replied that a Mahatma (or Master, or adept; the terms are more or less interchangeable) is a personage who, by special training and education, has evolved those higher faculties and has attained that spiritual knowledge which ordinary humanity will acquire after passing through numberless series of incarnations.

One of the Masters added to this definition by writing, "The adept is the rare efflorescence of a generation of enquirers; and to become one, he must obey the inward impulse of his soul irrespective of the prudential considerations of worldly science of sagacity." HPB said that the Masters were members of an occult brotherhood, most of whom lived in Tibet.

HPB claimed to have met many adepts in addition to the two who became her teachers, who called themselves Morya (M.) and Koot Hoomi (K.H.). This book makes compelling reading about her relationship with them, their continued guidance and influence on her, and how through their vision the Theosophical Society was born.

Did these men really exist? Doubts were cast, but then there is an abundance of letters written by them. Edward Abdill devotes the first part of his book to the Mahatmas and their letters and the profound wisdom they convey. Most of these letters are from K.H. and M. to HPB and to an Englishman named A.P. Sinnett. HPB and Olcott met Sinnett when they moved the headquarters of the Society from New York to Bombay (today's Mumbai), India, in 1878–79. Sinnett was intrigued by a paranormal phenomenon performed by HPB, which she attributed to the Masters, and he wanted to communicate with them. Later both M. and K.H. corresponded directly with Sinnett. This correspondence was published in 1923 as The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett.

There will be those who will say that the whole idea of the Masters was fabricated, but HPB had no motive for doing so. The Masters asked for nothing. The letters are about universal brotherhood. An open mind is needed to see the wisdom in them.

Abdill also describes how the Masters also had personalities with common sense as well as a sense of humor. After tiring of Sinnett's unending questions, K.H. wrote, "And now, how long do you propose to abstain from interrogation marks?" There are two fascinating chapters on the Masters' views on God, evil, occult philosophy (M. told Sinnett that the desire to see paranormal phenomena is like a drug), and the law of karma. The chapters "Our Sevenfold Nature" and "From Death to Rebirth" are to be read slowly and with single-minded attention.

Were there conflicts in the founding of the Society? Of course there were. "No people, no problems" gives way to "Yes, people, yes, problems." The Masters helped there also. In one letter, K.H. emphasized that HPB was to have no dealings with administrative things but was to have everything to deal with occult matters. She was their direct agent, he said. This work eventually led to the formation of what is today called the Esoteric School of Theosophy.

Through their letters, the Masters continued to give guidance about pitfalls on the path (fill each day's measure with pure thoughts, wise words, kindly deeds, K.H. wrote to Sinnett), on selfishness, pride, egoism, desire, and attachment. They also describe the threefold path of study, meditation, and service. K.H. advises aspirants in one word: "TRY."

Abdill devotes the second part of the book to the Path. After HPB's death, a document was found among her papers entitled "There Is a Road." It says, "There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road and it leads to the very heart of the universe. I can tell you how to find those who will show you the way." In one letter she urges, "Do not work merely for the Theosophical Society, but through it for the humanity." In her classic work The Secret Doctrine, she writes, "Lead the life necessary . . . and Wisdom will come to you naturally."

Are the Masters alive today? Are they still communicating with anyone? Ever since K.H.'s last letter to Annie Besant in 1900 (published in Quest, Summer 2011), there has been no proof that anyone has received letters from the Masters. But as an appendix to his book, Abdill includes a paper delivered in 1955 by the late TSA president Dora Kunz. Here she implies that she has had direct encounters with them, for example: "All of us have masks. All of us think in terms of little things that are not true. If you are in the Master's presence, that all gets wiped out."

The wisdom the Masters have provided is deep and profound. There is something amiss if, after reading Abdill's book, one does not have a desire to communicate with them.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for the past forty-five years. He is a regular contributor to the Indian periodical Lokmat.

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