The Panchen Lamas and the Theosophical Mahatmas

By David Reigle on March 31, 2020 at 11:33 pm

            Several references to the relation between the two main Theosophical Mahatmas and the then Panchen Lama are found scattered in the Theosophical writings. Some years ago, Daniel Caldwell collected these and sent them to a few friends. The quotations given below are taken from this (adding one by Boris de Zirkoff). Note that the Panchen Lama was usually referred to in these writings as the Teshu Lama, i.e., the Tashi Lama, after his monastery at Shigatse, Tashi-lhunpo.

“There is beyond the Himalayas a nucleus of these Adepts, of various nationalities, and the Teshu Lama knows them, and they act together, and some of them are with him and yet remain unknown in their true character even to the average lamas—who are ignorant fools mostly. My Master [Morya] and KH [Koot Hoomi] and several others I know personally are there, coming and going, and they are all in communication with Adepts in Egypt and Syria, and even in Europe.” (H. P. Blavatsky, letter to Franz Hartmann, 1886, published in The Path, March 1896, p. 370)

“. . . my venerated GURU DEVA [Koot Hoomi] who holds a well-known public office in Tibet, under the TESHU LAMA.” (Damodar K. Mavalankar, Dâmodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement, compiled and annotated by Sven Eek, 1965, p. 340)

“. . . the Tashi Lama (whose Master of Ceremonies one of our own revered Mahatmas is).” (Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, Fourth Series, p. 6)

“Koot Hoomi . . . is the relic-bearer to the Teshu-Lama, an office in Thibet resembling that—say of Cardinal-Vicar, in the Roman Catholic Church. . . .” (draft copy of the “First Report” of the Society for Psychical Research on H. P. Blavatsky, October 1884, p. 16)

“Master M.: Was (or is) a high official with the Teshu Lama in Tibet, a hutuhtu, or ‘bearer (or carrier) of sacred things,’ in the sense of relics. So says Vera P. Zhelihovsky [Blavatsky’s sister], who tells of having heard this from HPB [H. P. Blavatsky] many times. See her words in Russkoy Obozreniye, VI, Nov., 1891, p. 292, footnote.” (Boris de Zirkoff, Blavatskaiana, Historical Index, vol. 3)

The nearest thing to the office described above would probably be the chöpön (mchod dpon), “head/chief/master/overseer of offerings/worship/ceremonies/religious services,” who could thus be called the master of ceremonies. Daniel Caldwell went on to note this passage from the Mahatma Letters:

“In about a week—new religious ceremonies, new glittering bubbles to amuse the babes with, and once more I will be busy night and day, morning, noon, and evening.” (The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, letter #16, 2nd edition, p. 116; 3rd edition, p. 113; chronological edition letter #68, p. 203)

This letter is undated. Daniel determined, by way of a reference in this letter saying “Olcott is on his way to Lanka,” that it was probably written June 27 or 28, 1882, since Olcott left Bombay for Sri Lanka on June 27 and arrived in Colombo on June 30.

Daniel then found a reference to a major ceremony that was held at Tashi-lhunpo starting on June 30, 1882. It is from Tibetan Buddhism: With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in Its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by L. Austine Waddell, 1895, p. 508:

“During this feast many of the monks encamp in tents, and colossal pictures are displayed. Thus at Tashi-lhunpo the pictures are hung from the great tower named Kiku. At this festival, held there on June 30th, 1882, Lāma Ugyen Gyats’o informs us, a great picture of Dipaṁkara Buddha was displayed about a hundred feet long, in substitution for pictures of the previous days. Next day it was replaced by one of Ṣākya Muni and the past Buddhas, and the following day by one of Maitreya (Jam-pa).”

This is certainly suggestive of the Mahatma K.H. being there and acting as master of ceremonies. Of course, the officials in the Panchen Lama’s court were all Tibetans, while the Mahatma K.H. is said to be an Indian, specifically a Kashmiri. More on this in another post.

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