A sublime Foreword

Introduction – Jan Nicolaas Kind

It is heartening to see that recently some of the works of one of the three main founders of the Theosophical Society, William Quan Judge, have been translated into Portuguese. Marcos de Resende who heads the Brazilian Theosophical Publishing House, and Fernando Antônio Mansur Barbosa, a TS-Adyar member who publishes Theosophical books translated into Portuguese privately, assisted by dedicated Brazilian translators have made this possible. For now, The Ocean of Theosophy is already available and Letters That Have Helped Me will be released early next year. for the benefit of Brazilian and other Portuguese speaking students. It is hoped that in the future more titles will follow. Your editor obtained his very first Judge book, entitled Vernal Blooms, from the Adyar book-shop in India, during an International Convention in the late nineties. Judge’s complete and formidable oeuvre is widely available in many libraries of the TS-Adyar in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Wheaton and Krotona in the USA and Sydney, Australia, just to mention a few.

Theosophy JC 420 b

Jonathan Colbert speaks during the International Convention in Adyar-India, January 2018

Jonathan Colbert from California, the USA, a lifelong student of Theosophy, was more than willing to write the Foreword for Letters That Have Helped Me. This piece turned out simply “sublime”, so it was decided to publish it here in full, in English.  As soon as the Portuguese version is completed it will also be published on Theosophy Forward.




(English version) 

Theosophy JC 420 d

By Jonathan Colbert

Seek this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, by questions, and by humility; the wise who see the truth will communicate it unto thee and knowing which thou shalt never again fall into error, O son of Bharata.

Shri Krishna, Bhagavad Gita

Theosophical awakening starts with the discovery of Theosophy’s simple grandeur, not unlike beholding great nature. What were initially perceived as dark places begin to emerge as sources of numinous light; what was once opaque is now recognized as worthy of wonder and reverence. Theosophy is a system that shines light on and explains life’s mysteries like no other religion, philosophy or science, it being the holistic integration of all three. Transcendental unity, signifying the source, synthesis and interdependence of all, makes moral and aesthetic sense. The laws of universal harmony appeal to our sense of justice and hope for all sentient beings. Human life itself is shown to exist in a great field of spiritual learning with as many beings more advanced within and beyond humanity as there are those less so.

Theosophy JC 420 c

Annie Besant, H.S. Olcott, and William Quan Judge: taken in the garden outside of the residence of 19 Avenue Road, St. John's Wood, London (N.W.) England. MAY 1891

Theosophical life is a gradual realization that one is on a path. Random acts of kindness become a current of caring, responsibility and self-sacrifice. Research forays and spiritual explorations mature into the hero’s sacred journey, the unremitting search for Self-Knowledge. What were originally perceived as isolated questions come to be seen as steppingstones within an inter-lifetime quest, past, present and future. With a sense of humor and of the sacred, one observes that willfulness, recalcitrance and hubris give way to wonder, reverence and humility. One inwardly bows down in the presence of Invisible Nature and to those Tathagatas who have trodden the ancient path before. One gratefully approaches the force field of the soul’s compulsion to give unconditionally, to search for truth and nothing but the truth, to progress fearlessly beyond the heretofore imaginable and above all, to open one’s self to the wonder of non-judgement and gracious humility. In such a heart as this, the influence of the Brotherhood of Wise Beings will always find a home.

Like Shantideva, the monk who studied and taught at the temple university of Nalanda in the 7th Century C.E., a sincere seeker begins to see all true learning as steps in the “way of the Bodhisattva.” Compassion is the fundamental ground and sovereign magnet around which evolve and revolve the manifold powers of mind. The writings of William Quan Judge are for those who in this life are awakening, even if as nascent embryos, to the Bodhisattva Ideal and the Kwan Yin Pledge. Approaching the orbit of W.Q. Judge, like that of any great being, rekindles soul reminiscences of ancient initiations and vows taken in the service of humanity. For such aspirants, there is nothing more important than what they know in their heart of hearts as “The Path.”

Immersing oneself in the letters of W.Q. Judge written to Jasper Nieman, is to begin to think like Judge. Trusting him, you become him and he becomes you. Effortlessly humble, gracious, empathic to a fault, he kindles sparks of promise and hope. Always aware of the archetype of the seeker, certainly encouraging all pilgrims, he was nevertheless ceaselessly on the lookout for those who desired to develop themselves into helpers of humanity. Always cognizant of the “end in view,” taking into account great lengths of time, critical periods of human evolution, the gradual awakening of the thinking faculties and higher intuitions of man, he was quick to clarify that institutions do not matter as much as “a change in the Manas and the Buddhi” of the whole human race.

The reader will note that Judge relates to Jasper Nieman as a friend and confidant rather than strictly as student. In this larger circle there is room for a more open textured giving and receiving. Mr. Judge’s posture is, if he is indeed able to offer any help, it is due to something that has been earned in previous lives by the receiver of the help, as is evidenced by this passage:

My Dear Jasper:

Now let me elevate a signal. Do not think much of me, please. Think kindly of me; but oh, my friend, direct your thoughts to the Eternal Truth. I am, like you, struggling on the road. Perhaps a veil might in an instant fall down from your spirit, and you would be long ahead of us all. The reason you have had help is that in other lives you gave it to others. In every effort you made to lighten another mind and open it to Truth, you were helped your self. Those pearls you found for another and gave to him, you really retained for yourself in the act of benevolence. For when one lives thus to help others, he is thereby putting in practice the rule to try and ‘kill out all sense of separateness,” and thus gets little by little in possession of the true light.

Never lose, then, that attitude of mind. Hold fast in silence to all that is your own, for you will need it in the fight; but never, never desire to get knowledge or power for any other purpose than to give it on the altar, for thus alone can it be saved to you.

While affirming that there is knowledge and that it can indeed be obtained, W.Q. Judge guides his reader to pay particular attention to the motive for getting knowledge. If it has anything to do with hunger for power or comes from any sense of separateness, then it will not be real learning. Here he is laying the foundation for meditation and self-study as the indispensable twin practices required to truly walk The Path (The Path was the name of the American magazine that Mr. Judge edited, and that H.P. Blavatsky referred to in her Messages to American Theosophists as “pure buddhi”).

In some of Mr. Judge’s letters, especially those he wrote from Europe, he confides to his trusted friend the psychic environments and energies surrounding him, including those conducive to a debilitating despair. Yet even these descriptions are instructive in that they demonstrate a refined mindfulness and an occultly informed sensitivity. In some ways there is a reciprocity with his correspondent, the person whom he has brought up to a certain pitch of strength, who is now the one in whom he, in turn, tunes into as a pillar of unconditional mental support while he is abroad amidst, at times, a milieu of inimical forces. The vital talisman, though, he wrote in one of his letters, is duty:

What, then, is the panacea, finally—the royal talisman? It is DUTY, Selflessness. Duty persistently followed is the highest yoga, and is better than mantrams or any posture, or any other thing.

In more than one place, Judge draws attention to the potency of speech and the importance of the thought and intentionality, especially within the sphere of the spiritual, that are put into words:

Words are things. With me and in fact. Upon the lower plane of social intercourse they are things, but soulless and dead because that convention in which they have their birth has made abortions of them. But when we step away from that conventionality, words become alive in proportion to the reality and purity of the thought that is behind them. So in communication between two students they are things, and students must be careful that the ground of intercourse is fully understood. Let us use with care those living messengers called words.

William Quan Judge, we will remember, was Irish, but as one can gather from the short stories penned by him (See “In a Borrowed Body”), he had an ongoing, interior, mystical connection with India. He lived and breathed the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, as well as such mystical treatises conveying the wisdom of the East as The Voice of the Silence and Light on the Path. In the sense that the principles, accents and resonances of these ancient works informed everything he thought, wrote, spoke or did, Judge was the synthesizing embodiment of the 2nd Object of the Theosophical Society.  

In terms of continuity of consciousness, effort and purpose, Judge was a simultaneous inhabitant of many worlds, and perhaps as many ages and epochs. Much that can be learned about him is by reading his occult tales, contained in this volume. There, the reader is taken to ancient lands of mystery. His capacity as a writer to give shape to the mind’s eye the events taking place in these occult stories can perhaps only be matched by the story telling caliber in our own times of an Ursula K. Le Guin. In Judge’s tales are portrayed in palpable relief, as if by an eyewitness, trials and tests of patience, faith, loyalty and chelaship. If the virtues in the Greek sense are powers and strengths brought with us from previous lives, then Judge lived the 3rd Object of the Society by purifying and demonstrating the best use of the psychic (and noetic) faculties in the human being.

W.Q. Judge exemplified selfless and sacrificial engagement with humanity. Echoing and embodying the 1st Object of the Theosophical Society and the document known amongst Theosophists as “The Letter of the Maha Chohan,” Theosophy, to Judge, was for all classes, creeds and races of humanity, not just for the upper classes of Europe. Although Judge himself was supremely cultured, educated and refined, he was quintessentially American and egalitarian in that he affirmed that the development of an unpretentious Theosophical literature was needed for the common man. His writings offer just that. In his capacity of a tireless toiler who sought to bring about universal education out of a love for humanity, Judge embodied a disciplined synthesis of Jnana, Karma and Bhakti Yogas.

As a Jnana Yogin, the essential characteristic of which is the penetrative intellect, Judge was able to see into the buddhic kernel of Theosophical teachings. Thus, as at the shores of an ocean, he could offer the teachings with sweet simplicity to the mind of a child, while still pointing to their oceanic depths for those with ‘ears to hear’ and with ‘eyes to see.’ In addition to assisting with the production of both Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, to authoring his own volume, The Ocean of Theosophy and his renditions into English of ancient texts such the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, he edited The Path magazine from its inception until the time of his death, a period of 10 Years. As editor, while building a cadre of writers for the monthly magazine, he wrote the majority of the articles himself under a variety of pseudonyms. Some of the more frequent guises he wrote under were Hadji-Erinn, Murdhna Joti, William Brehon, Eusebio Urban, Rodriquez Undiano and Bryan Kinnavan.

As a Karma Yogin, during the twenty-two-year period between meeting H.P. Blavatsky in 1874 and when he died at the early age of 44 in 1896, W.Q. Judge labored unstintingly for Theosophy. He did this, while supporting himself and his wife by practicing commercial law. Said to have written many of his articles on trains between setting up and visiting branches throughout the U.S.A., Judge was anything but a man of leisure. In the two decades of his Theosophical work in America, he established over a hundred branches of the Theosophical Society. He was clearly an organizer and an energizer par excellence. While he was known by his colleagues in the legal profession as a “saint,” his precision of thought and presentation as a lawyer is reflected in the methodology, orderliness and coherence of his Theosophical writing.

As a Bhakti Yogin, Judge was beloved by devotees of all ages including little children, who would find their way onto his lap and melt into him while he was talking philosophy with adults. A person as utterly devoted as Judge was to the sacred cause of the Brotherhood of Bodhisattvas, could not help but be a nucleus of universal brotherhood in and of himself, wherever he travelled. He served faithfully the requests of his colleague and teacher H.P. Blavatsky as well as the Brothers who were behind the scenes and at the helm of the Theosophical Society. Recalling his first encounter with H.P. Blavatsky at her apartment in New York City in 1874, Judge wrote:

It was her eye that attracted me, the eye of one whom I must have known in lives long passed away. She looked at me in recognition at that first hour, and never since has that look changed. Not as a questioner of philosophies did I come before her, not as one groping in the dark for lights that Schools and fanciful theories had obscured, but as one who, wandering many periods through the corridors of life, was seeking the friends who could show where the designs for the work had been hidden. And true to the call she responded, revealing the plans once again, and speaking no words to explain, simply pointed them out and went on with the task. It was as if but the evening before we had parted, leaving yet to be done some detail of a task taken up with one common end; it was teacher and pupil, elder brother and younger, both bent on the one single end, but she with the power and the knowledge that belong but to lions and sages.

Such was the mutual recognition of two sages and of the great work that lay before both. It has been my honor to contribute this Foreword to this translation of Letters That Have Helped Me into Portuguese. It is likewise my hope that numerous insights into life on the Path can be gleaned and as many blessings bestowed through these letters by a great friend of humanity, William Quan Judge.

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