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East meets West: New Thought, Thelema, and The Holy Order of Krishna

We are once again being taken to task for some of our writers quoting often the slogan of verse I8.63 of the Bhagavad Gita “Yatha ischasi tathha kuru” – of which we accepted Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” as the best English paraphrase; and if there is so much public opposition to the very mention of Crowley’s name we have to bow thereto, and do so. But that is not to deny that Crowley had been trained in India of men who were great Yogis such as Karunananda, Sabapati Svami’s disciple. In deference to occidental opinion we shall paraphrase the Gita dictum by the English in “Fulfill thy Will”.
The Kalpaka, Volume 26, 1931, issues 4-5

Much has been written about the westward transmission of Indian esoteric themes in the early twentieth century – via movements such as the Theosophical Society, esoteric groups such as the OTO, and charismatic teachers such as Pierre Bernard, but instances of transmissions in the other direction – of Indian esotericists engaging with western occultism, seem to be rarer.

I’m indebted to Gregory Peters – see his recent article Tantric Thelema in South India – for swinging my interest in the direction of one Dr. T. R. Sanjivi, who, in 1905, founded a group known as “The Latent Light Culture” and it’s inner order – “The Holy Order of Krishna” (which remains operative today -see Latent Light Culture website) and founded the journal The Kalpaka: ” India’s only Psychic and Spiritual Review”.

The Kalpaka seems to have circulated in American New Thought journals since 1908, with Exchange advertisments carried in journals such as “Master Mind Magazine” (edited by Annie Rix Militz) and The Phrenological Journal. Notice of a book – “Yoga Lessons” by Kalpaka’s Associate Editor, Swami AP Mukerjee 1 – also appears in William Walker Atkinson’s Reincarnation and The Law of Karma published by the Yogi Publication Society of Chicago. 2

An American Swami?
The founder of the Yogi Publication Society, William Walker Atkinson (1862-1932) was a prolific and highly influential New Thought author, who produced a steady stream of books and pamphlets between 1903 and 1922. He contributed articles to Elizabeth Towne’s New Thought magazine Nautilus and later published the New Thought magazines Suggestion, New Thought and Advanced Thought.

The New Thought movement in American evolved from Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science teachings, and embraced a wide array of teachings relating to the creative power of thought (particularly with regard to mental healing) a universalistic embrace of different religious traditions, and self-affirmative psychology.

Atkinson wrote under a wide variety of pseudonyms and personas, such as Theron Q. Dumont, Theodore Sheldon, Magus Incognito, Swami Panchadasi, Swami Bhakta Vishita, and Yogi Ramacharaka. Ramacharaka’s first book, Fourteen Lessons in Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism (1903) proved to be popular, and was quickly followed by Advanced Course in Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism, The Hindu-Yogi Science of Breath, and Hatha Yoga and at least 9 others. Atkinson’s Ramacharaka writings show a strong influence from the work of Swami Vivekananda as well as Theosophical themes 3 Mark Singleton (2010) characterises the Ramacharaka texts as examples of “transnational anglophone yoga” – a new, western-oriented approach to yoga which emerged from the intersection of the rise in physical culture, self-help, mental hygiene, New Thought, and self-affirmations. Vivekananda, on his second visit to America (1899) spent several months lecturing to New Thought audiences. 4

So what is the connection between The Kalpaka and Atkinson? It is tentative, but I have seen references to Atkinson’s books in the few editions of The Kalpaka that I have been able to view 5 and the editors of The Kalpaka seem to have embraced some concepts of New Thought in their presentation of Indian esoteric ideas. Mantra, for example, is explained in the following way:

When you affirm I Will, something within you stands up and says, – I Want. and your affirmation becomes useless. It is this phase of Mantra Yoga, that Professor Coue has tried to work out in his marvelous system of Mental Therapeutics.

The “Professor Coue” being referred to here is the influential French New Thought writer Emil Coué (1857-1926), author of books such as Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion and How to Practice Suggestion and Autosuggestion. Coué is said to be the originator of the phrase “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”

Looking at reprints of New Thought Yoga texts also indicates some degree of correspondence. Swami Mukerji’s Doctrine and Practice of Yoga (1922) bears the copyright of Atkinson’s Yogi Publication Society and “Copyright in India of The Latent Light Culture”. Similarly, Yogi Ramachakara’s The Science of Psychic Healing (date) shows publication by the Yogi Publication Society, LN Fowler, and The Latent Light Culture, Tinnevelly, So. India.

The Journal’s contents seem to be highly eclectic – with articles on Sri Vidya, “Koondalini Yoga”, Theosophy (see below), and a wide range of New Thought topics – hypnotism, personal magnetism, mind-power, mental healing, etc.. Within Volumes 41-44 of Kalpaka there is an article by Hereward Carrington – The Strangest Man I have Ever Known which recounts some of his experiences with Crowley, including a brief description of a ceremony in which he and William Seabrook participated.

Although it’s difficult to assess the reach and influence of The Kalpaka 6 the journal and its associated publications do show up in Western esoteric journals. For example, here’s a brief review from the Canadian Theosophist (1933):

“The Kalpaka opens its 28th volume with the January number, and the editor, T. R. Sanjivi pursues a progressive policy. He promises continuing translations of the Upanishad’s; as soon as the Yoga Upanishads are done, the Shakta Upanishads will follow. Swarodaya with full comments will be given and correct renderings of many misconceptions “like those of Ram Prasad, of the fame of ‘Nature’s Finer Forces’.” Also new “Interpretations of the Scriptures of all religions that research is bringing up. It is a fairly big programme; but “what else, what less can we do, can we offer to our Lord God?” he asks. He resents the attempt that has been made to interpret all mysticism, all Yoga, all Occultism in terms of the Qabala and “thus to maintain the gulf already widening between the white and the non-white races of the world.” The January and February issues contain part of the Preliminary Explanations of H.P.B. to her pupils receiving the Third Instruction, and this is to be continued.”

The Holy Order of Krishna’s “Practical Instruction in Occultism” was reviewed in the December 1929 edition of “Occult Review” by no less a luminary than Dion Fortune. Elizabeth Sharpe – see this post – in her book Indian Tales (1939) reproduces a letter from T. R. Sanjivi:

“I find the translation of the MSS, on the “Science of Breath” appended to your work “The Secrets of the Kaula Circle” contains some useful notes to practitioners of pranayama, especially for those who seek material advantages.
Have I your permission to reprint it and circulate same among the members of the “Order of Krishna”?
[Professor T.R. Sanjivi of the Order of Krishna, Editor, “The Latent Light Culture”, dated 4th May, 1937]”

Aleister Crowley, David Curwen, Kenneth Grant

“Regarding the TANTRA LESSONS which you have sent, I have and have been reading them with considerable interest. … “I am rather fascinated by it. I feel that with all my study that here indeed is one of the missing pages turning up at last.” DAVID CURWEN. (London-England)
The Kalpaka July-Aug-Sept. ’50

There has been, over the last few years, an increasingly scholarly focus on David Curwen (1893-1984), who, between 1944-1947 corresponded with Crowley. Curwen is known to have been a practicing alchemist, and was a member of the Holy Order of Krishna, and, according to Henrik Bogden (2010, pxliv) attained the second grade of the Holy Order of Krishna’s system, under the guidance of his guru – Swami Pareswara Bikshu. Bikshu, as Bogden shows, seems to have been familiar with at least some of Crowley’s writings, as can be discerned in the following quotes from his A Series of Eleven Lessons in Karma Yoga (The Yogi Philosophy of Thought-Use) and the Yogin Doctrine of Work (Yogi Publication Society, 1928): 7

Act Thou, therefore, when opportunity confronts you; responding to it, meeting it bravely, utilising it, actively. “Do what thou wilt,” say the Masters, “Shall be the whole of the Law,” of Dharma of Karma – only he who doeth is the Karmi; he who wills to do and doeth is the Karmi Yogi; the Deed is the Karma, his future, his destiny the harvest of his Thoughts and Acts. Your Deed is the expression of your will, the will in you; say then to yourself “I will” and the Act. So acting shalt though not sin, says the Lord Krishna

and

In this shall be the Ordinance (Sastra) for you Karmi Yogi, in the dictum of “Do what thou wilt” which shall be for thee the whole of the law, teaching you comprehensively what to do, what to avoid, this is only ordinance; “do what thou wilt, then do nothing else”; we shall repeat it constantly, without end, that you may be unified of will, that in all your act you may bring all the universe that is of you, that in your act the whole of you and not the puny portion of you miscalled the “I” at the threshold, at the outer gate of consciousness may act, and impress itself on the event that anyhow must be.

It is easy to see how Crowley’s concept of True Will would have appealed to those interested in New Thought 8. The Bhagavad Gita was already an inspirational text amongst advocates of New Thought even before the appearance of Vivekananda, via the writings of Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau. 9 Although of course, it is not a “tantric” text as such, tantric commentaries do exist – most, notably Abhinavagupta’s Gitarthasamgraha. Of verse 18:63 – which the editors of The Kalpaka controversially paraphrase as “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” – Douglas Brooks (2008, p167) explains:

“when we understand the world, we know what to do because the nature of reality is our nature. The “imperative” that arises from such an insight is never an external compulsion nor need we be coerced, threatened, or even enticed with reward. The wise person will simply act accordingly because the best choice is the most natural and spontaneous one. We need not become something we are not nor attain a state that is foreign to our inclinations or nature. Instead we must learn how to step into our nature and act from that sublime, inner reality that has always been present.

Curwen is also known for his association with Kenneth Grant, and in particular, the influence of his knowledge of tantric teachings on Grant’s interpretation of tantra. It is from Curwen, that Grant obtained a Kaula commentary on the Anandalahari which is now lost (more about that another time).

Some closing thoughts
Obviously there is more work to be done on untangling the mysteries of the Holy Order of Krishna, The Kalpaka and its connections to New Thought, anglophone yoga, and the already tangled tale of tantric transmissions between India and Europe -and the influence of the New Thought movement in India. There are indications that the editors of The Kalpaka were somewhat critical of western interpretations of tantric texts (for example those of “Arthur Avalon”) and it would be interesting to explore to what degree the Journal (and by extension, the Holy Order of Krishna) engaged with or acted as a counter to, the Indian condemnation of Tantra which had been growing since the mid-19th century.

Perhaps more significantly, cases such as The Kalpaka complicate the widespread assumption that the “appropriation” and reinterpretation of esoteric or religious themes only occurrs uni-directionally (i.e. “Western” appropriation of “Eastern” philosophies) and, I would argue, destablises the the binary category of “the West” and “the East” as oppositional to each other.

With thanks to Henrik Bodgen.

A paper by Henrik Bogden on the Holy Order of Krishna will be published later this year in – Occultism in a Global Perspective edited by Henrik Bogdan and Gordan Djurdjevic, from Acumen Publishing.

Sources
Catherine Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit (Yale, 2007)
Aleister Crowley & David Curwen – edited & introduced by Henrik Bogden Brother Curwen, Brother Crowley: A Correspondence (Teitan Press, 2010)
Clint Marsh, Swami Panchadasi’s Clairvoyance and Occult Powers: A Lost Classic (Weiser, 2011)
Elizabeth De Michelis A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism (Continuum, 2005)
Mark Singleton Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (Oxford University Press, 2010)
Beryl Satter Each Mind a Kingdom: American Women, Sexual Purity, and the New Thought Movement 1875-1920 (University of California Press, 2001)
Sarah Strauss Positioning Yoga (Berg, 2005)

Online
Ananda’s Site

Notes:

  1. See also Yoga Lessons for Developing Spiritual Consciousness archived at www.sacred-texts.com
  2. Yogi Publications’ London agents were L.N. Fowler & Co. This publishing company was established by Lorenzo Niles Fowler (1811-1896) – an influential American phrenologist.
  3. according to Clint Marsh (2011, pviii) Atkinson attended the lectures of Swami Vivekananda at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions.
  4. See De Michelis (2005) for a comprehensive discussion of Vivekananda’s concept of Yoga and its various influences.
  5. I don’t at present, have access to complete copies of The Kalpaka and have been largely relying on Google’s “Snippet” view – typing keywords in and taking screen shots of what emerged.
  6. See INDIAN NEWSPAPER REPORTS, c1868-1942
    from the British Library, London
    which shows a monthly circulation for Kalpaka of 1,240
  7. from Bogden, 2010, pxlv.
  8. In addition, Crowley’s commitment to “the method of science, the aim of religion” would surely have appealed to both New Thought advocates in America and Indian moves to establish the Vedas or Yoga (for example) as scientific, universal and rational – this latter being a key feature of Vivekananda’s reformulation of Yoga
  9. The Yogi Publication Society released a compilation/translation of the Gita, attributed to Ramachakara/Atkinson, in 1907.

5 comments

  1. Gregory
    Posted July 2nd 2013 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    Great article, thanks for piecing all of this together. I’ve been in semi-regular contact with Munish Kumar, and am hoping to visit in Delhi soon to talk with him and see some of the archives.

    Its certainly an interesting area and a great example of transmissions from West to East.

  2. Phil Hine
    Posted July 2nd 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Clive Harper has been good enough to send me an extract from Dion Fortune’s review of The Holy Order of Krishna’s Practical Instruction in Occultism (Yoga) which appeared in the December 1929 issue of The Occult Review. It reads:

    “There is one point that may be raised, however. The Order appears to have for its slogan the words ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.’ This phrase has somewhat sinister associations in English ears and the organisers of the Holy Order would be wise not to employ it in literature intended for European circulation.”

    • Gregory
      Posted July 2nd 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      Outstanding! I am hoping some of the occult scholars out there will be compiling all of this information into a new volume. Its a fascinating area of study and a really overlooked piece of the still very young history of Thelema, among other things. Thanks!

  3. Michael Staley
    Posted July 3rd 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Good summary, Phil. The Dion Fortune quote is interesting, showing her wariness of Crowley at that time. She appears to have overcome that wariness, corresponding with him in later years and visiting him at Netherwood while Kenneth Grant was staying there.

  4. Phil Hine
    Posted August 1st 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks to Clive Harper for sending me the full text of Dion Fortune’s review of Practical Instruction in Occultism (Yoga) which appeared in the December 1929 issue of The Occult Review.

    The Holy Order of Krishna. Practical Instruction in Occultism (Yoga.) Tinnevelly, India: The Latent Light Culture.

    This book consists of twenty-four lessons for probationers of the Holy Order of Krishna, and says frankly that – “The lessons are strictly personal and not self-contained. The completion of each lesson will be only for the enquirer and suitable to each individual requirement.”

    No reasonable person, however, is going to quarrel with a teacher who takes precautions to safeguard his system and his pupils, and subject to the proviso that I have not experimented with the system, nor have been supplied with the missing keys, I will endeavour to express an opinion thereon.

    The name of no author is mentioned, but the work is obviously that of a scholar and mystic. The general impression conveyed is that here we have something worthy of serious attention by Western occultists who are desirous of studying that aspect of philosophy in which India excels … the etheric double and its practical manipulation by the controlled breath concentrated by meditation.

    The employment of a Sanskrit terminology makes the study somewhat difficult for a European, but an excellent glossary gives valuable help. In fact it is well worth the while of any student of esotericism to get the book for the sake of the glossary alone.

    The question arises, however, how far is the Eastern Guru able to deal with the Anglo-Saxon temperament and physique? The Anglo-Saxon has an unfortunate knack of apparently getting no results at all from Yoga exercises for a considerable time, and then suddenly going all to pieces. Apparently the organisers of the Holy Order of Krishna know what they are about, and a very interesting opportunity seems to be offered to Europeans by their school.

    There is one point that may be raised, however. The Order appears to have for its slogan the words ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.’ This phrase has somewhat sinister associations in English ears and the organisers of the Holy Order would be wise not to employ it in literature intended for European circulation.