The Life-Testimony of a Great Theosophist
A 2012 Editorial Note:
A few months before his death, Mr. Dallas
TenBroeck (1922-2006) sent CD copies of his
theosophical files to some theosophists around the
world. The following text reproduces from those
files the 1907 autobiographical notes by Mr. Crosbie.
In 1909, Robert Crosbie (1849-1919) was the main
founder of the United Lodge of Theosophists, ULT.
His autobiographical notes examine some of the most
difficult moments in the history of the theosophical
movement. Their importance, as a first-hand narrative, is
unquestionable. Since politics cannot replace truth, the
differences among the various currents of theosophical
thought can be frankly examined on the principle
that truth stands above other considerations.
The candid testimony given by Robert Crosbie
shows the importance of sharing with other
truth-seekers one’s own experiences along the Path.
Theosophists have much to learn from the facts in
each other’s lives, and H.P. Blavatsky wrote about
this. In an 1887 letter to her London students, she said:
“…It is the first rule in the daily life of a student in
occultism (…) to never take off your attention from
the smallest circumstances that may happen, whether
in your own or your fellow-worker’s lives; to record
and place them in order in those records, whether they
may or may not be connected with your spiritual
pursuits, and then bind (religare) them together by
comparing notes with the record of others and thus
extract from them their inner meaning. This you ought
to do at least once a week. It is from these totals that
you would find out the direction and path to pursue.”
We add a few explanatory notes to the text.
(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
Transcript of Autobiographical Notes
Los Angeles, Cal. March 24th 1907
I was born into the present physical body on January 10th 1849 in the city of Montreal, Canada. My parents were both Scotch; they met and married in Canada, my father having been connected with the Hudson Bay Company for many years, traveling from Post to Post, and my mother being companion to Lady Simpson the wife of the Governor of the Hudson Bay Company. In the early days the family was brought up in the Presbyterian faith, and I have a distinct recollection of the gloom of the “Sabbaths”, and the horrible incubus of the doctrines inculcated. Later, my father asserted a more rational view of religion, as also did my mother, although nominally retaining their connection with the church. My mother being of Highland blood, had the characteristics of that people, among them that known as “second sight” (i.e. clairvoyance); she made no attempt to use this faculty, but showed instances of its possession on important occasions affecting the well-being of her people. What is termed the “religious instinct” was strong in her, and her life was one of self-sacrifice and she never consulted her own comfort. I realized later, and perhaps more fully now, how much I am indebted to her for much of the ease of response in certain lines, of the body she gave to me. Great Karma will sometime permit me to repay that soul with whatever of knowledge I may have gained.
Although my parents relaxed much in their application of the tenets of their faith, the children (of whom I was the eldest) were sent to “Sabbath school”. Thus it went on for some years – I endeavoring by study and instruction to “reach salvation”, but never at all succeeding in reaching any condition which would represent the wonderful change such realization must necessarily be.
When I was 16 years of age, my dear old Sunday school teacher took me aside and seriously talked to me of joining the “communion”; I was amazed and startled, and at once replied that I was not fit, I had no realization of salvation such as I had heard of. His reply was that a young man was safer as a communicant than otherwise. But said I, does not the bible say that he who eats and drinks unworthily at the table of the Lord is condemned? He admitted that it did, but that the association would be good for me, and light might come later. Still amazed, I asked him if many had joined the communion without realization. His reply was “most of them”. I do not remember what further speech we had – if any – but I do remember how utterly alone I felt, and how completely the whole superstructure of the church fell to pieces. I then began to search for the Truth. I pictured to myself a person with full reasoning powers, never having heard of religion, going to the highest representative of every known religion and asking each one “do you know the Truth”? and realizing that each one would but state their own particular form of belief. I saw then that truth could not be a belief, it must be knowledge – but where – oh where was that knowledge to be found; how could it be obtained. I received no answer then.
My school life was much like that of other boys I imagine, although there was always that under current of questionings in regard to the object of life; why sickness and unhappiness? why death? why were we born? The religious information on these points was vague, and on some points devoid of justice, mercy or love. It was such a terrible picture that I resolutely closed my mind to it as much as possible, and took interest in the companions of my youth and their affairs.
I desired the world of men rather than books, and went into a manufacturing business at the early age of 20 years, soon after marrying the daughter of my partner. The latter became a spiritualist through losing his wife, and frequented séances for the purpose of communicating with her, but I found nothing in the spiritist philosophy, or the facts, that drew me.
A favorable opportunity offering, we sold out our business in Montreal and went to Boston, where we established a similar one. Boston offered a larger field for my partner’s quest among the “spiritists”, and so many wonderful things were told to me that I was induced to attend a number of séances with him. In short, I found much fraud, and what little genuineness there was, carried no evidence of the spiritists’ claim that the souls of the dead returned “to communicate with easy-going mediums”. Some of these experiences suggested the idea of hypnotism (which was then coming to the front). I took lessons from the best available teachers of the “art”, and practiced hypnotism for several years with unusual success. I also studied telepathy and clairvoyance. I had struck the line of “the psychic powers latent in man”, but did not understand the rationale. Many of the experiments I made were of much benefit to me in later years, for they gave me a practical understanding that I would not otherwise have had. Nevertheless there was a grave danger in it all, and I cannot but think that there was some guidance which kept me from tumbling into unconscious black magic, although I had never heard of such a thing. I always had a strong regard for the rights of others and would never use my power against another’s will, or suggest any idea detrimental to the moral sense in the least degree. It was while in this line of thought that my partner brought word to me of the formation of a branch of the T.S. in Boston. The word Theo-Sophia suggested much, so I went to the first meeting. I knew at once, even from the meager presentation of that time, that here was what I had been in search of. I joined the Society that evening and was shortly after elected its Secretary. Judge came to Boston soon after; I was introduced to him together with other members, and had no other notice from him until after the meeting when we had parted at the door, he, going with some members to his hotel, and I in another direction. We had got some distance apart when I heard him call out “good night Crosbie, I’ve got you on my list”, I said “good night” but was much exercised at the rest of his remark. Something however happened then; a veil was lifted. A tie was formed which has never since been broken. He frequently came to Boston and stayed at my house, and I frequently went to N.Y. I was made President of the T.S. in Boston. Subsequently, when the Esoteric Section was formed by H.P.B. and W.Q.J., I was admitted and afterwards became – was appointed – its President. These positions I held until I left Boston in April 1900.
At the time I joined the T.S. H.P.B. was in India, and had started “The Theosophist” magazine there. Judge had begun the publication of the “Path”. There was little else in the way of Theosophical literature. “Man – Or Fragments of Forgotten Truth” came next; this was later expanded into “Esoteric Buddhism”; “The Occult World”; “The Key to Theosophy” came in rapid succession.
Right here it would be well to say that Sinnett  was never admitted to the E.S., because he would not pledge himself not to divulge certain of the teachings which can only be given under such restriction. Some of these reasons are given in “The Key to Theosophy”.
In consequence of Sinnett’s refusal to accept such a pledge he went wide of the mark in some important points in his “Esoteric Buddhism” in regard to the evolutionary chain. This gave rise to some controversy which never could be settled without that which could not be made public.
In the early days those who were first drawn to the T.S. were the spiritualists – also various kinds of faddists. When these found that Theosophy did not pander to, nor agree with their preconceptions and prejudices, they took their departure; there were some however who sought for truth alone, and those remained. In the meantime there was going on a great work; that of laying down of the occult lines of force, and centers of work. When it is remembered that H.P.B. was for some years a visitor to this country before she “woke up” Judge and Olcott and formed the T.S., the idea may be grasped that the most important work of the Movement was not on the surface. The average person makes much of organization, form, method – authority and what not, and in crystallization of idea, defeats understanding. Thus the attacks, splits, controversies, and other foibles that have been perpetuated during the history of the Movement in this generation. You must have noticed that all the difficulties that have arisen in the T.S. raged around personalities; there have been no doctrinal differences; this is significant. You may also have observed that those who belittle Judge, will be found belittling H.P.B. An ancient saying has it that “accursed by Karmic action will find himself he, who spits back in the face of his teacher” – not an elegant saying perhaps to our ideas, but it conveys a fact of most grave import in occultism. By these fruits you will know them.
I think that I have told you that my connection with Judge was intimate on inner lines; these cannot be explained, but to me they are the only real ones.
The T.S. represents the world; in it, in embryo are fought the battles of the world; ignorance, superstition, selfishness, ambition – all are there; but as the Master wrote once “So long as three true brave souls remain the T.S. cannot be destroyed”. It is my belief that the true T.S. is not contained in any one organization, but that its members exist in many organizations, the binding force being difficult to give understandingly, but I will try.
At the time of the passing of W.Q.J. the members of the T.S., and particularly of the E.S., knew that they had been in personal touch with the messengers of the Great White Lodge, so that their minds were more than ready to receive a successor in that line. Two or three of the prominent New York members – notably E. T. Hargrove, who was Judge’s private secretary during the last year of his life – and E. A. Neresheimer – obtained possession of Judge’s keys and went through his private papers; in these they found references to a certain chela, whom Neresheimer determined to be in regard to Mrs. Tingley whom he had known for about a year, and whom he had brought to Judge’s notice. The idea being in their minds that there must of necessity be an occult successor, and concurring in the opinion that Mrs. Tingley was indicated, they send out a circular to the E.S. that Judge had appointed her as such. The minds of all, being in the receptive condition I have mentioned, accepted everything as stated by the few in New York, but those at a distance had no inkling of the true state of affairs and kept on in full confidence. Those who found that they had made a mistake in the first place in foisting Mrs. T. upon the organization were in too doubtful a position to attempt explanations; one of them only – Mr. Neresheimer – (who had introduced her to Judge) – remaining as her supporter.
Mr. Neresheimer had been the Treasurer of the T.S. for years and was well-known to the members, and his support was sufficient to offset any withdrawal of the others in N.Y.
Mrs. T. took advantage of the situation, and most plausibly and shrewdly strengthened her position for two years after her advent, then formed the “Universal Brotherhood” with herself as absolute dictator; carrying with her by far the greater number of the members throughout the country. A year later she went to Point Loma and established the institution there.
As to my part in it – I was in Boston, and saw no reason to doubt the statements made of those in N.Y. whom I believed to be sincere and of good training and judgment. I should have known by other means the true state of affairs, – but this had happened – when Judge passed out of life, I lost touch with him; doubtless I relied on him too much, and had not exercised my own intuition; from later events my comprehension is, that this loss of touch was purposely done in order that I might strengthen my weakness in that direction. I went to Point Loma at Mrs. Tingley’s urgent request to assist in the proposed work, and was there for two years, helping to prepare the way for the expected developments, before I began to get back the touch I had lost. I am slow to turn back from any task I have set myself, and am prone to excuse inconsistencies and deviation in others, so that although I had begun to doubt, and to see, it was more than a year afterwards before I saw so clearly and unmistakably that I took occasion to tell Mrs. T. the facts as I saw them, and to state my intention to withdraw from all connection with her. She tried of course in every way to change my determination, but finding me unchangeable, she let me go, and as I afterwards heard, gave out that she had sent me away for “bad conduct” – just what I do not know. This of course, to “save her own face” as the Chinese say. I am quite well aware  of her capacities in the above direction from the history of others  who had discovered her real character, and left; there is no slander too low or mean for her to use in such cases to justify herself. Sorry as I am to say it, such is the character of Katherine Tingley, the Leader of the Theosophical Movement Throughout the World, as she styles herself – (there is more of it that is simply too nauseating to write.) It was a hard schooling for me, but it had its good uses and effects. I feel no enmity towards her; I truly pity her and would help her do right any time it might be in my power. I also feel most deeply towards those who are held in mental bondage by her; but nothing can be done – they must open their own eyes, they are not in a condition to have them opened by anyone else.
Perhaps you may see now, why it is that I am so fearful of any abridgment of individual judgment, or cessation of effort to develop individual intuition.
Katherine with a large number of her “students” are in this city this evening giving the play of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; It will be beautifully staged, and everything will be done to give a fine impression  – undoubtedly with success. She will also speak in Belasco Theater on Sunday eve on “Some Practical Lessons in Human Life”, and will doubtless present a fair picture to the mind’s eye; and yet she is as I have said. Those who see these pictures would not believe anything different from what they see – and she knows it, and preys upon the best and noblest in human nature for her own ends. I tremble for the Karma she invokes.
Well I must turn in now; will write again soon.
With love, as ever,
[The above is typed]
(Signed) Robt. Crosbie
 See the penultimate paragraph in the article “Leaning from Each and Every Event”, by Helena P. Blavatsky, which is available in our associated websites. The same text was published as “Extract of a Letter from H.P.B. to a London Group, 1887”, in “The Theosophist”, Adyar, July, 1988, pp. 386-389.
 Actually, “Fragments of Forgotten History”, by Two Chelas, London: Reeves and Turner, 1887, 165 pp. The “two chelas” who wrote the book were Mohini Chatterjee and Laura Holloway. At this point Mr. Crosbie is quoting several books, not necessarily in their precise chronological sequence.
 Sinnett – Alfred P. Sinnett, the British author of “Esoteric Buddhism” and “The Occult World”.
 quite well aware – In Dallas TenBroeck’s transcription, we have “quite will aware”. A misspelling, therefore.
 from the history of others – In Dallas TenBroeck’s transcription, we have “form the history of others”. A misspelling, therefore.
 a fine impression – In Dallas TenBroeck’s transcription, we have “a fine a fine impression”.
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