Gandhi Learned Hinduism From Blavatsky’s Occult Theosophy
History textbooks will tell you that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a.k.a. Mahatma Gandhi, is one of the most revered names in Indian history for his achievements in ending British imperialism through non-violent, civil disobedience. What they won’t tell you is that there is a strong occult connection to his life of social justice, due to the efforts of Madame Helena Blavatsky and Annie Besant of the Theosophical Society.
What is Theosophy?
Theosophy is a collection of mystical and occult philosophies, largely based on ancient Eastern religion and spirituality. Founded by Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, Theosophy is based around the premise that no religion is higher than truth. Though it takes into account aspects of religion considered to be virtuous, it ascribes to none in particular. This sentiment would later be echoed by Gandhi in a famous quote when he said, “there is no God higher than truth.”
When Madame Blavatsky, a Russian author and occultist started the Theosophical Society, she lived in an apartment in New York City with co-founder Henry Steel Olcott. She had migrated to the U.S. after traveling throughout Tibet where she met “Masters of the Ancient Wisdoms,” later to be referred to as “mahatmas,” who supposedly helped her develop psychic abilities, including telepathy, clairvoyance, and astral projection. She claimed to remain telepathically in contact with these masters throughout her life.
Blavatsky's Influence on Occult America
One night Olcott was dozing off, when suddenly he had a vision of an ethereal figure wearing a turban. The figure spoke encouraging words to him and told him to travel to India. It said that the country was the cradle of the oldest civilization and Hindusim was being chipped away by Western colonialism. It urged him to initiate a rebirth of traditional Eastern religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism.
Blavatsky and Olcott took heed of this vision and moved to India, where they were welcomed for their embrace of Hinduism and aversion to the British elite. The Indians weren’t used to Westerners encouraging the practice of their native religion, and expeccted them instead to try to convert them to Christianity, like the Western missionaries in India at the time.
Blavatsky and Olcott soon started a publication expounding on their Theosophical ideologies, much to the chagrin of the British. However, their acceptance by the Indian population led to the creation of a flourishing Theosophical Society and the eventual construction of its headquarters in Adyar. From then on, Theosophy gained significant traction, and the seeds of the Indian Independence Movement were sown.
Gandhi and the Theosophical Society
Blavatsky health eventually started to fail, forcing her to move to London. There she founded the Blavatsky Lodge and was visited by Mohandas K. Gandhi, who was receiving a Western education and studying to become a lawyer.
He was encouraged by Blavatsky and the Theosophists to read Hinduism’s religious text, the Bhagavad Gita, though he initially declined, embarrassed by a lack of knowledge of his native religion. He was also ashamed at his lack of comprehension of Sanskrit, but eventually said he was willing to read along with them.
This opened Gandhi’s perception of the religion, having previously cast it off as antiquated and a superstition that his parents shamefully still practiced. But reading the Gita changed his worldview, and it became his guide to life.
This was the first step in breaking down the “civilized” constructs that British imperialist culture had instilled in Gandhi, eventually leading to his non-violent, peaceful protests against that very system. He heard Blavatsky talking about a universal brotherhood and the commonality between all religion and races, inspiring one of the most famous political activists of all time.
It’s well documented that Gandhi attributed much of his inspiration to his time spent with the Theosophical society. He spoke of Blavatsky as being a major catalyst for his ideas, and while he was living in South Africa, Gandhi kept a picture of Annie Besant, Blavatsky’s successor, on his office wall.
Though he was intrigued by the Theosophical Society and its philosophies, he didn’t want to become a member, due to its esoteric, secretive nature. Gandhi believed that secret societies were anathema to democracy and would hinder its success. Besides, Gandhi was a man of the people, though he would eventually join as an associate member, a now defunct title.
Gandhi and Annie Besant
Annie Besant was an Irish activist who was involved in political and spiritual movements, which presented alternatives to capitalism and imperialism. She fought for women’s rights, freedom of thought, and secularism.
Besant was a compelling orator, and a speech she gave at Trafalgur Square in London was partially responsible for the Bloody Sunday of 1887, during which police clashed with protesters of the Irish National League and the Socialist Democratic Federation, arresting hundreds and injuring 75.
Eventually she joined the Theosophical Society after writing a review on one of Blavatsky’s books and subsequently interviewing her. She found socialism and economics lacked a spiritual aspect, and found Theosophy filled that void.
With her history in politics and newfound appreciation for Theosophy, she became involved in Indian politics, launching the foundation of the Indian Home Rule Movement in 1916. She became a member of the Indian National Congress and fronted the first political party in India whose goal was to overthrow the imperial British regime.
Obviously, she was met with some resistance and spent time in jail for a few months, but was eventually released and made president of the Indian National Congress for one year. The man who petitioned for her release from prison and who became her successor was none other than Mohandas Gandhi, when he returned home from his time spent in South Africa.go
From then on, Gandhi would take over for Besant and develop his satyagraha movement to peacefully protest against British imperialism. And though they grew apart due to ideological differences, Besant continued to campaign for Indian independence.
Though the extent to which the occult Theosophical movement influenced Gandhi and Indian independence is not commonly known, it is well documented. It could also be said that the widespread influence of Eastern spirituality on Western culture that is so prominent today can be attributed largely to Blavatsky and Theosophy. Had she and her followers not taken the steps to influence Indian independence and the revivification of Hinduism, Indian history may have been different.
5 Famous Theosophists Other Than Gandhi
- James Joyce – Renowned author of Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, Joyce explored Theosophical ideologies and philosophy, along with fellow Irish author of the era, W.B. Yeats.
- Rupert Sheldrake – Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, is a biologist and author best known for his hypothesis of morphic resonance. At Cambridge University, he worked in developmental biology as a Fellow of Clare College.
- Nicholas Roerich – https://www.gaia.com/lp/content/chintamani/ known for interest in hypnosis and spirituality. Led an expedition to Asia to find the mystical Tibetan city of Shambhala. Also spent time with Gandhi and Nehru.
- Henry Wallace – Vice President of the United States under FDR. Was criticized for his connection with the occult and relationship with Nicholas Roerich.
- Manly P. Hall – Canadian author and mystic famous for his work The Secret Teachings of All Ages: An Encyclopedia Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy
Achieving Modern Enlightenment With Gurdjieff's Fourth Way
Around the turn of the 20th century, the mysticism movement aimed to bridge the gap between western and eastern philosophies with theosophy, esotericism, and a burgeoning interest in the occult. This spiritual zeitgeist inspired George Gurdjieff to develop the Fourth Way; exercises that can be incorporated into one’s daily life to remove yourself from a state of hypnotic waking sleep.
The Fourth Way: Hindu, Sufi, And Christian Esotericism
Deeply devoted spiritual practices often focus on either a detachment from the physical or a strict dominance over it. Georges Gurdjieff did not see these attempts to embrace a higher self as practical, believing instead that enlightenment could be achieved without asceticism.
Born in 1866 in Alexandropol, Armenia, Gurdjieff was inspired by the theosophical movement and decided to travel to Central Asia and the Middle East in search of esoteric spiritual leaders and seekers of truth. Upon his return, he penned a series of books that would become the foundation of his spiritual practice: The Fourth Way. The second book in the series and 1979 film, Meetings with Remarkable Men, detailed his encounters with spiritual leaders on his journey who were more likely fictional characters symbolic of the three “ways” preceding his.
During his travels, he was inspired by the spiritual ways of the fakir, monk, and yogi, though he saw their methods as only successful in achieving a fraction of development, with the more practical roots of their disciplines lost in antiquity. At the same time, he believed that the effects of modern technology and society were entrancing everyone into a hypnotic waking sleep.