Critical Commentary on Adepts Research 1995-2000

These are all the published reviews of my first two books, and appraisals in later books, that I shared on a Theosophical history website in 2000. Of the 22 reviewers, only two were unfriendly, from opposite points of view, both more polemical than historical in tone.

For Theosophists the book event of 1994 is without much doubt this product of 8 years of painstaking research by scholar-librarian and theosophist Paul Johnson. Though it will not be happily received by those who cherish the larger-than-life Mahatma legends, the book is noteworthy first for the individuals who contributed to its compilation, and additionally for its broad range of acknowledged sources…Rather than definitive assertions of fact, it is a look through many windows at fascinating, incomplete scenes and events of 19th century occultism. These findings are fitted together to make a hypothesis accompanied by an invitation to look further, dig more deeply, and objectively begin to know the uniquely gifted visionary that HPB was.” Claire Walker, Reflections of a Theosophist, 1994

“Previous works about the mysterious Madame Blavatsky are full of conflicting information, since she left behind a trail of concocted legends. The Masters Revealed, by K. Paul Johnson, strips away most of the fantasy and provides a wealth of new material…K. Paul Johnson’s book is a real original. In straightforward, readable prose, it presents a panorama of heroes, heroines and eccentrics. Tracing Madame Blavatsky’s secret life, it often reads like an occult whodunit about a woman who was, in fact, as fascinating as the legends she created about herself.” Edward Hower, The New York Times Book Review, 1995

“Whether read as a ‘whodunit’ or as fact, it is a remarkable piece of research in a hitherto unexplored field of study.” Joy Mills, The Quest, 1995

“Johnson’s The Masters Revealed is somewhat quixotic, but offers the best separation of fable from history of the founders of the Theosophical Society. In many ways Johnson’s theses provide a beginning at independent, non-fabulous accounts of whom the real cohorts of HPB were.” Paul Nagy, Critical Notice, 1995

“Notwithstanding the reservations that a theosophical student might have, there is no doubt that Johnson has done his research, has examined records and archives and followed up clues in H.P.B.’s handwriting. It must also be said that his handling of the information he has discovered is objective, and the conclusion he comes to as to the possible identities of the theosophical Masters, notably Morya and Koot Hoomi, is well justified.” Geoffrey Farthing, The Theosophical Journal, 1995

“It turns out that Blavatsky may really have known what she was talking about. Much of the information in her books is truly old occult teaching, known to a relatively few. Madame seems to have both had access to a few formerly secret works…and to have absorbed a great deal from personal contact with a number of people who had made a lifelong study of the occult. Although she was accused of being a Russian spy, this does not seem to have been true. This book is an interesting study of an aspect of a still-mysterious personality.” Gordon Stein, The American Rationalist, 1995

The Masters Revealed is a record of historical research with a flawed thesis that dooms it to frustration. Johnson has…not revealed HPB’s Masters. He has not touched the mystery.” John Algeo (President, Theosophical Society in America), Theosophical History, 1995

“Johnson is on the right track. He understands, as many of Blavatsky’s biographers have not, that her life and work contain an intricate web of fact and fiction, of sincere and profound spiritual understanding combined with a taste for chicanery and the more than occasional deception.” Richard Smoley, Parabola, 1995

“At last, the historical identities of Madame Blavatsky’s occult ‘Masters’ have been revealed…A scholarly work that will shape the future of skepticism of this mysterious ‘religion.'” The Skeptic, 1995

“Each account advances piecemeal a complex argument about Blavatsky’s career. Johnson admires her doctrines but denies her claims that they were dictated by a secret society of spiritual advanced ‘Masters.’ He argues that Blavatsky frequently lied about events while her ideas were her own synthesis of various European and Asian esoteric traditions. He further claims that Blavatsky was a political figure no less than a religious one, like other revolutionaries who worked from secret societies, such as Giuseppe Mazzini; above all, that her `Masters’ were real figures…involved in a secret struggle against British rule in India and Egypt.” John Ferris, Intelligence and National Security, 1995

“Consider, for example, what becomes of Madame Blavatsky in the hands of K. Paul Johnson, the best-informed but hardly the most reliable commentator on Theosophy. Though he acknowledges HPB’s light regard for the truth and reluctantly explodes several features of her legend, Johnson airily maintains that she ‘devot[ed] all her energies to the enlightenment and liberation of humanity.’ Her lies, he declares, were told with the most selfless of motives, to protect the identities of her politically active tutors in Egypt and India…such piety obscures both the cynical glee Blavatsky must have taken in perpetrating ruses and the obvious self-interestedness of her concocted ‘Mahatma letters.'” Frederick Crews, The New York Review of Books, 1996

[Initiates of Theosophical Masters] “provides useful information about the figures surrounding H.P. Blavatsky in her Indian years and about the parallels between Theosophy and other religious movements that introduced the religious teachings of Asia and the Middle East to the West…the comparisons between Theosophy and the movements, specifically Radhasoami, Baha’i, and the Fourth Way, will hopefully provide future researches with landmarks to aid them in their investigations.” Mike Ashcraft, Gnosis, 1997

“Readers familiar with New Testament scholarship will recognize Johnson’s strategy as a form of demythologization– a search for the ‘historical Masters.’ Strip away the mythical veneer from Blavatsky’s portraits of these adepts and examine carefully her connections with secret societies, political reform movements, religious reform organizations, and agencies of the British, French, and Russian governments. You will discover real human beings undergirding and inspiring Blavatsky’s invention of her Masters…While Blavatsky says these beings chose her. Johnson concludes that she chose them.” Stephen Prothero, Religious Studies Review, 1997

[Initiates of Theosophical Masters] “draws an evocative portrait of the occult revival since the end of the nineteenth century, including the Orient…and its intricate connections with the independence struggles of the time.” Bulletin d’Histoire des Religions, 1997

[Initiates of Theosophical Masters] “deserves to be read by all students of Blavatsky and of the history of religious ideas.” John Cooper, The High Country Theosophist/Theosophy in Australia, 1997

“By deconstructing Blavatsky’s life and work, Johnson has been able to decode her ‘Master mythos’ as referring not to ethereal spectres but to living religious, political, and esoteric figures. He proves (I think conclusively) from her work that these figures…were involved in political agitation in various forms (including the liberation of India from the British.) Cloaking their identities became a necessity. Blavatsky commandeered the earlier Freemasonic concept of Unknown Superiors or Secret Chiefs and used it as a gloss to cover the identities of her ‘comrades’ in revolution.” New Dawn, 1998

“In 1994, an American scholar, K. Paul Johnson, published a book, The Masters Revealed, which suggested that ‘the Masters’ were, in fact, a combination of numerous adepts and teachers whom Blavatsky had met in her travels in Asia and the Levant, and fictionalized personae based on living people whom Blavatsky was known to have associated with in India.” Mick Brown, The Spiritual Tourist, 1998

“K. Paul Johnson speculates that one of the chelas of the Mahatmas, one Chandra Cusho, is a fictionalization of Sarat Chandra Das, and that the Mahatma Ten-Dub Ughien is based on Ugyen Gyatso. Although it is possible that Madame Blavatsky’s obsession with Tashilunpo and its secret archives and with the Tashi Lama may have come from a reading of Bogle, it may also have been derived from the connection of Das and Ugyen Gyatso to the monastery and to the Sengchen Lama, from whom they received Tibetan texts that they brought back to Darjeeling.” Donald S. Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, 1998

“In an intricate feat of deduction, K. Paul Johnson, a scholarly explorer of the esoteric tradition, maintains in The Masters Revealed (1994) that among the real life models for Madame Blavatsky’s Tibetan Masters were Das and his fellow pundit Ugyen Gyatso, along with their Tibetan patron, Losang Palden, the chief minister of the Panchen Lama…densely written, fascinating, and controversial.” Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac, Tournament of Shadows, 1999

“The modern scholar K. Paul Johnson has connected them with Indian political and spiritual leaders Blavatsky was acquainted with; although questions remain even about Johnson’s thesis, it remains the most plausible one.” Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney, Hidden Wisdom, 1999

“Blavatsky claimed to have obtained her wisdom in hidden lamaseries in Tibet and Central Asia, where she had found secret texts like the (imaginary) Stanzas of Dzyan. She also relied on material channeled from great supernatural Masters, members of the Great White Brotherhood, a select club that included Jesus, the Buddha, Confucius, Mesmer, and Cagliostro, as well as real-life occultists she had consulted over the years…the living Masters, whom she had exalted into mythological supernatural beings.” Philip Jenkins, Mystics and Messiahs [citing KPJ], 2000

“K. Paul Johnson’s impressive biographical research shows that Blavatsky was more involved with the campaign for Indian independence than had been previously recognized…his original biographical hypothesis [is] that Blavatsky’s Masters were in large part real people whose character she exaggerated and whose true identity she concealed for political reasons. While not gainsaying this idea, which Johnson presents in startling and often compelling detail, it should be made clear that however much real ‘Masters’ may have figured in Blavatsky’s development, in her peculiar mental state they were reworked unconsciously into dream characters, whom she never met except in her mind’s eye.” Tim Maroney, The Book of Dzyan, 2000.