CHARLES WEBSTER LEADBEATER was born in Stockport, Cheshire, England, on 16 February 1854, to Charles and Emma Leadbeater. This date of birth was given in the English census of 1861, 1871 and 1881. After his mother died, in May 1882, his date of birth was given as 17 February 1847 and it appears in the 1891 census. This was also the date he used in his passport. His reason for using a different date of birth is not known, although research about it continues. He passed away on 1 March 1934 in Perth, Western Australia.

In 1858 the family went to Brazil. Below are the certificate issued by the Public Archive of Bahia to Mr Ricardo Lindemann, former National President of The Theosophical Society in Brazil, and a facsimile reproduction of the ship manifest of the arrival in Brazil on 30 May 1858 of Charles Leadbeater, his wife and one son. Leadbeater’s claim to have had a younger brother, Gerald, travelling to Brazil is not supported by archival evidence obtained in that country. Research continues in Brazil in order to establish the nature of his father’s activities there.

           Certificate issued by the Public Archive in Bahia, Brazil

Young Charles with mother, Emma

CWL as a young man

Facsimile of ship manifest for 30 May 1858, containing the record of the arrival in Brazil of              Charles Leadbeater, his wife and son. (Public Archive in Bahia, Brazil)

His father died in 1862. Leadbeater was ordained a priest in the Church of England on 21 December 1879 and took residence in the village of Liphook with his mother. At Church he organised several activities for young people. He was also very interested in psychic phenomena and conducted his own investigations in the Scottish Highlands.

He joined the Theosophical Society in November 1883 after reading A. P. Sinnett’s The Occult World. He met Madame Blavatsky in London and decided to offer himself as a chela (disciple) to one of the Masters. He wrote a letter to him in March 1884 but did not receive a reply until October of the same year. Following the Master’s suggestion, he resigned from his position in the Church and sailed to India, where he took up residence at Adyar.

Sometime in 1885, while at Adyar, he received instructions from his Teacher on how to develop the faculty of clairvoyance. He also helped Henry Steel Olcott, President-Founder of the Theosophical Society, in his work for Buddhism in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as well as in Burma.

Col. Olcott, in his book Old Diary Leaves, mentions the work done by C. W. Leadbeater for Buddhism both in Ceylon and Burma:

While the party were in Colombo [1884], en route for Madras, an interesting episode occurred. The Rev. Mr. Leadbeater, with H.P.B. and myself acting as sponsors, “took Pansil” from the High Priest Sumangala and Rev. Amaramoli, in the presence of a crowded audience. This was the first instance of a Christian clergyman having publicly declared himself a follower of the Lord Buddha, and the sensation caused by it may be easily imagined. (Third Series, Chapter XIV)

In Colombo, 2,000 copies of Mr. Leadbeater’s Sisya Bodhya, or elementary Catechism, were published (1885). (Chapter XXV)

Towards the end of the year 1884, I received from the now-deposed King Theebaw an invitation to visit him at Mandalay to discuss Buddhism. The intermediary was his Italian physician, Dr. Barbieri de Introini, now the President of our revered Branch at Milano, Italy. On the chance of getting his Majesty to help the Sinhalese Buddhists, and to bring about more intimate relations between them and their Burmese co-religionists, I accepted, and in January, 1885, accompanied by Mr. Leadbeater, went to Rangoon. A week later I was telegraphed to return, as Mme. Blavatsky was apparently dying. Leaving Leadbeater there, I returned home, only to find that, by one of those almost miraculous changes which happened to her, she was convalescent, and after a week she let me go to Burma. I found that Mr. Leadbeater had worked up so great an interest that almost immediately I was able to organize three Branches. (Fourth Series, Chapter XV)

Olcott recalls the vicissitudes he and Leadbeater had to undergo while traveling through Ceylon in March 1885:

We entered the village of Madampe with a great procession that had come to meet us, and made noise enough with their barbaric tom-toms and horns to frighten away all the pisâchas [demons] within the circuit of five miles. Of course, our public lecture was attended by a huge crowd, who displayed so much enthusiasm. Leadbeater, who is now working in America, will doubtless be entertained by these notes of our associated tourings. I doubt, however, his recalling with pleasure the trip from Madampe to Mahavena, in a country cart without springs, over a fearfully rough road, on which we got, as Horace Greeley did over a Kansas railroad, more exercise to the mile than was good for the soul. Every bone in our bodies was shaken up so as to make us painfully conscious of its anatomical position, while, as for poor Leadbeater, he suffered agony with his weak back. However, we came out of the experience alive, and that was something. (Third Series, Chapter XXV)

During his 1896 visit to Colombo, Col. Olcott reported that after meeting the High Priest Sumangala at his college “I went to our Ananda College, now a prosperous and very successful educational institution, but which was founded by Mr. Leadbeater in 1885 [sic] as an English High School, when he was working with me in Ceylon.” (Sixth Series, Chapter I)

In an article in The Theosophist (August 1928, “When H.P.B. and Colonel Olcott Took Pañchasīlā”), Mary K. Neff, author of Personal Memoirs of H. P. Blavatsky, writes:

In conclusion I would like to call the reader’s attention to the marble slab in front of the Vihāra, in the illustration. This was erected by Mr. C. W. Leadbeater, in memory of the fact that the Founders took Pañchasīlā here. It was, indeed, Mr. Leadbeater who followed in the footsteps of Col. Olcott in work for Buddhist Ceylon. He travelled to the East in 1884, with H.P.B. and Mrs. Cooper-Oakley, arriving at Colombo on December 17th, where they were met by Colonel Olcott and Dr. Franz Hartmann. On that day on which he first set foot on Buddhist soil, Mr. Leadbeater took Pansil in the presence of this little party and the Colombo members of the Theosophical Society. In 1885 he acted as Recording Secretary of the Theosophical Society at Adyar, succeeding Damodar K. Mavalankar; but in 1886 he went to Ceylon to work among the Buddhists. Mr. Jinarajadasa tells how he tramped from village to village on Sundays, teaching at the Buddhist Sunday Schools which he had organized; how he aided his (C.J.’s) brother and later himself, “helping them in their school work and doing all that could be done by an elder friend to help a younger”. It was he who founded the institution which is now Ānanda College, Galle; and it was while he labored there that he erected the slab at Vijayānanda Vihāra. During his years in Ceylon, he went as a delegate to the Conventions at Adyar and spent there the three months of vacation from school work laboring at Headquarters. In 1888 he arrived from Ceylon to become a permanent resident at Adyar, and took charge of THE THEOSOPHIST; on November 28th, 1889, he sailed for Europe, taking with him his brother of earlier years, his pupil later, and now his co-worker; thus accomplishing his last and perhaps greatest work for Buddhism in this incarnation, by giving the Theosophical Society its Buddhist Vice-President, Mr. C. Jinarajadasa.


H. P. Blavatsky in Ceylon, 1880

Commemorative plaque at Vijayananda Vihara, Galle, in memory of H.P.B. and H.S.O. taking the Panchasila.
Photo by Pedro Oliveira (2004).

C. W. Leadbeater at Adyar, 1885

Farnham Parish Church, Surrey, UK, where CWL was ordained a priest on 21 December 1879

CWL as a young curate, Bramshott, Liphook, England.

CWL at the 1885 Convention at Adyar (standing, third row). Col. Olcott and T. Subba Row can be seen seated at the centre.

On 19th May 1880, H. P. Blavatsky and H. S. Olcott, “took pansil” at the Wijayananda Pirivena located at Weliwatta in Galle, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The above painting, located in the temple existing at the Pirivena mentioned above, depicts the moment HPB and HSO recited the Panchasila before the Buddhist elders and thus became Buddhists. Photo by Pedro Oliveira (2004). 

Vijayananda Vihara, Galle, Sri Lanka, where HPB and HSO took the Panchasila on 19th May 1880 and became Buddhists.

H.S. Olcott and the Ven. H. Sumangala Thero, Colombo, 1889. 

H. S. Olcott’s certification that he and H.P.B. took the Panchasila in May 1880 at the Vijayananda Vihara in Galle.

Plan of the Buddhist Shrine built at Adyar in 1925.

In the December, 1925 issue of The Theosophist, C. Jinarajadasa states: “Col. Olcott mentions in his diary on February 14, 1883, that he received a note from the Master K.H., expressing a desire that there should be a Buddhist Shrine at Adyar. A donation of Rs. 150 was sent with the letter, which also enclosed a plan for the sanctuary.” The shrine was built under Jinarajadasa’s supervision. 

Original Charter of the Colombo Theosophical Society, established in June 1880, containing the signatures of H. P. Blavatsky and H. S. Olcott. Photo by Pedro Oliveira (October 2007), courtesy of the Buddhist Theosophical Society,
203, Olcott Mawatta, Colombo.

H. S. Olcott with a group of religious leaders at the opening ceremony of the inauguration of the Adyar Library, 28th December 1886. “...priests of Advaita and Visishthadvaita Hinduism, of Southern Buddhism, of Zoroatrianism, and of Islam were in attendance, and, as they were called, mounted the speaker’s platform, and with ceremonies appropriate to their several religions, invoked blessings and prosperity on the enterprise.”
(Old Diary Leaves, Third Series)

Statue of Col. Henry Steel Olcott at Ananda College, Colombo. Photo by Pedro Oliveira (October 2007)

The renovated building located at 61 Maliban Street, Colombo, were C. W. Leadbeater established the English Buddhist Academy (Bauddha Shasthralaya) on 1st November 1886, of which he was the first Headmaster . This Academy became the nucleus of the future Ananda College. Photo by Pedro Oliveira (October 2007)

The C. W. Leadbeater building in the campus of Ananda College, Colombo. Photo by Pedro Oliveira (October 2007)

The Fritz Kunz building, Ananda College, Colombo, showing the years during which Fritz Kunz was its Principal.
Photo by Pedro Oliveira (October 2007)

Source: The Golden Book of the Theosophical Society (1925)

In 1889, A. P. Sinnett requested that Leadbeater came to London to be the tutor of his son, Denny. He arrived in London about Christmas in that year accompanied by a thirteen year old boy, C. Jinarajadasa, from Colombo, who later would become a well-known lecturer and author for the TS, and eventually its fourth international President. Both attended regular meetings of the London Lodge under Sinnett’s leadership. Later on, in 1894, Leadbeater moved to Avenue Road, the headquarters of the TS in London, where he established a close association with Annie Besant in their common work for the Theosophical Society.

While still in England CWL became one of the well-known speakers for the TS. He also became a writer on Theosophy and his first book, The Astral Plane, was published in 1894. Most of his books were the result of his clairvoyant investigations into the unseen worlds around us. During the period from 1900 and 1905 he lectured extensively in the US. He also visited Australia. As a result of his talks many people joined the TS and came into contact with the teachings of Theosophy. Below is the list of subjects of his six months course of lectures delivered in Chicago in 1903 (see The Theosophist, March 1903):

Man and His Bodies
The Necessity for Reincarnation
Karma – The Law of Cause and Effect
Life After Death – Purgatory
Life After Death – The Heaven World
The Nature of Theosophical Proof
The Rationale of Telepathy & Mind Cure
Invisible Helpers
Clairvoyance – What it is
         do.       – In Space
         do.       – In Time
         do.       – How it is Developed
Theosophy & Christianity
Ancient and Modern Buddhism
Theosophy and Spiritualism
The Rationale of Apparitions
The Rationale of Mesmerism
Magic, White and Black
The Use and Abuse of Psychic Powers
The Ancient Mysteries
Vegetarianism and Occultism
The Birth and Growth of the Soul
How to Build Character
Theosophy in Every-day Life
The Future that Awaits Us


                 CWL’s visit to Melbourne in 1905. Two of his pupils are shown in the photograph:              Basil Hodgson-Smith (back row, third from the right) and Fritz Kunz (back row, far right).

H. S. Olcott, Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater at the international Convention, Adyar, December 1905.

The 1906 Crisis

After attending the international Convention at Adyar in December 1905, CWL went on a lecture tour through India which eventually led him to the headquarters of the Indian Section in Benares. Towards the end of Februrary 1906, Annie Besant, who had made her home in Benares, received a letter from Helen I. Dennis, Corresponding Secretary of the E.S. [Esoteric School] in the USA, dated 25 January 1906. The letter was co-signed by the following persons: Alexander Fullerton, General Secretary of the American Section of the TS; Frank F. Knothe, Assistant General Secretary; Elizabeth M. Chidester, Assistant Corresponding Secretary, E.S., and E. W. Dennis, Mrs Dennis’ husband. The letter presented the following charges against C. W. Leadbeater and demanded an inquiry about them: 1) “That he is teaching young boys into his care, habits of self-abuse and demoralizing personal practices.” 2) “That he does this with deliberate intent and under the guise of occult training or with the promise of the increase of physical manhood.” 3) “That he has demanded, at least in one case, promises of the utmost secrecy.” The letter also enclosed testimonies of the mothers of two boys and branded Leadbeater’s conduct as “criminal”. The boys in question were Robert Dennis, Helen Dennis’ son, Douglas Pettit and Howard Maguire.

In her reply to Mrs Dennis, Besant condemned the advice CWL had given to some boys in his care while maintaining her belief in his moral integrity. Col. Olcott equally condemned the advice and made an appeal to CWL for him to desist from imparting such advice in the future. Very soon after receiving a copy of Mrs Dennis’ letter to Besant, CWL wrote a letter to Alexander Fullerton, frankly presenting his views on the problem. He wrote:

The business of discovering and training specially hopeful younger members and preparing them for Theosophical work has been put into my charge. Possibly the fact that I have been associated with the training of young men and boys all my life (originally of course on Christian lines) is one reason for this, because of the experience which it has given me. As a result of that experience, I know that the whole question of sex feeling is the principal difficulty in the path for both boys and girls, and that very much harm is done by the prevalent habit of ignoring the subject and fearing to speak of it to young people. The first information about it should come from parents or friends, not from servants or bad companions. Therefore I always speak of it quite frankly and naturally to those whom I am trying to help, when they become sufficiently familiar with me to make it possible. The methods of dealing with the difficulty are two. A certain type of boy can be carried through his youth absolutely virgin, and can pass through the stages of puberty without being troubled at all by sensual emotions; but such boys are few. The majority pass through a stage when their minds are much filled with such matters, and consequently surround themselves with huge masses of most undesirable thought-forms which perpetually react upon them and keep them in a condition of emotional ferment. These thought-forms are the vehicles of appalling mischief since through them disembodied entities can and constantly do act upon the child.

The conventional idea that such thoughts do not much matter so long as they do not issue in overt acts is not only untrue; it is absolutely the reverse of the truth. I have seen literally hundreds of cases of this horrible condition, and have traced the effects which it produces in after-life. In this country of India, the much abused custom of early marriage prevents all difficulty on this score. Much of this trouble is due to the perfectly natural pressure of certain physical accumulations, and as the boy grows older this increasing pressure drives him into associations with loose women or sometimes into unnatural crimes. Now all this may be avoided by periodically relieving that pressure, and experience has shown that if the boy provokes at stated intervals a discharge which produces that relief, he can comparatively easily rid his mind of such thoughts in the interim, and in that way escape all the more serious consequences. I know this is not the conventional view, but it is quite true for all that, and there is no comparison between the harm done in the two cases even at that time – quite apart from the fact that the latter plan avoids the danger of entanglement with women or bad boys later on. You may remember how St. Paul remarked that while it was best of all to remain celibate in the rare cases where that was possible, for the rest it was distinctly better to marry than to burn with lust. Brought down to the level of the boy, this is precisely what I mean; and although I know that many people do not agree with the view, I am at a loss to understand how anyone can consider it criminal – especially when it is remembered that it is based upon the clearly visible results of the two lines of action. A doctor might advise against it, principally on the ground that the habit of occasional relief might degenerate into unrestrained self-abuse; but this danger can be readily avoided by full explanation, and it must be remembered that the average doctor cannot see the horrible astral effects of perpetual desire.


Alexander Fullerton

G. R. S. Mead

A. P. Sinnett

Bertram Keightley

Contrary to what had been promised by the signatories of the letter to Annie Besant (“utmost secrecy and circumspection”), CWL’s letter to Fullerton was widely circulated among Lodges and members of the American Section. Soon, as details of the scandal became widely known, the Society was thus plunged into a major crisis that would last for two and a half years. As the crisis deepened, Col. Olcott decided to convene an Advisory Board at the Grosvenor Hotel in London, on 16 May 1906, to consider the charges against C. W. Leadbeater. Present at the meeting were Olcott, representatives of the Executive Committee of the American and French Sections; members of the Executive Committee of the British Section, including G. R. S. Mead, Bertram Keightley and A. P. Sinnett. Leadbeater was also present. Mead, Keightley and Burnett, the representative of the American Section, urged that CWL be expelled from the Society. In a letter to Annie Besant, CWL mentioned that “after two hours of discussion and cross-examination, and then an hour and a half of stormy debate at which I was not present, the Committee recommended the Colonel to accept the resignation, which I had previously placed in his hands; he formally did so, and so the matter stands at present.”

A future short biography of CWL, which is in preparation, will present a study of the 1906 crisis, its historical background as well as additional material on the much debated “Cipher Letter” which, it was alleged, was written by Leadbeater to one of the boys at the centre of the events.

After his resignation from the TS, CWL went on to pursue clairvoyant investigations in different parts of Europe which were later to be incorporated in the book Occult Chemistry. He also made investigations on a variety of nature spirits.                                                                                                       

A Letter from CWL to Annie Besant

Having received additional evidence from the American Section of the TS against CWL, Annie Besant issued a circular letter to members of the E.S. on 27th July 1906. It represented a major and dramatic shift in her attitude towards him for she declared that “Mr Leadbeater is so obviously convinced of the propriety of the practice recommended, that he must either be regarded as, on this point, insane, or a victim of that glamour which is the deadliest weapon of the Dark Powers against those who seek to hasten their evolution by treading the dangerous path of occultism. It is this glamour which, I believe, is enwrapping him.” She also wrote: “I have had in Mr Leadbeater a friend, always helpful, always loyal, always kind and considerate, always prompt to sympathize and encourage. My life is the sadder and the poorer for his loss. But the T.S. and E.S. must stand clear from teaching that pollutes and degrades, and it is right that Mr Leadbeater is no longer with us.”

After receiving a copy of the abovementioned communication, CWL wrote the following letter to Annie Besant. The crisis, however, was far from over and new and unexpected events would take place.


                                                                                         10 East Parade, Harrogate, England
                                                                                                         29th August, 1906.

My dear Annie,

Your letter enclosing your circular to the E.S. reached me yesterday while I was writing to you, and my comments upon it were therefore made somewhat hurriedly, as I had to catch a certain post. After a night in which to think it over, it is borne in upon me that I ought perhaps to write a few words more – that if it were thinkable that our positions could be reversed, I should wish to receive from you the very fullest and frankest statement of feeling that was possible. I think I owe it to you and to the loyal friendship of so many years; but I have withheld it so far because I did not wish even to seem to complain or to criticize – because I have to the uttermost that faith in you which you have perhaps somewhat lost in me – also, I think, because I shrank from obtruding my own personality in the midst of a crisis.

As I have said before, when we discussed this matter at Benares, I did not consciously make the slightest mental reservation. I was strongly oppressed by the feeling that the whole affair was taking up much of your time and causing you much trouble, and therefore I proposed as little as possible of alteration in what you wrote to Mrs. Dennis. You may possibly remember that I did make two different suggestions, one concerning that full explanation had never been given by me to Robert Dennis and the other deprecating the emphasis you laid upon the words “in rare cases”. Upon the first you acted, but it gave you the trouble of rewriting a sheet of the letter; the second you did not notice and I did not press it, not in the least realizing then that it might later come to be a question of primary importance. But in explaining matters to you, I did not speak of rare cases, but all where absolute abstention was obviously impossible. You dissented quite definitely from the advice I had given, but there was no slightest hint then about my having “fallen”, or being the victim of glamour.

Now, dear, I am most anxious not to hurt you in any way, and not to give you an impression of a feeling of blame which is utterly absent from my heart if I know it. But from my point of view nothing whatever has happened since, to account for the tremendous change which has come over your opinion. You have received additional evidence from America which is mostly false, which I have never had the opportunity of seeing or of going over with you; and on the strength of that your proclamation was issued. You yourself put my own case for me in the aptest words when you intimated in one of your letters that I might perhaps find it necessary to publish some sort of statement in contradiction to worse rumours that were flying about; you yourself said how monstrous it was that a man’s character should be taken away by unsupported and unexamined evidence given by a few boys who were being so badgered by excited relations that they hardly knew what they were saying. To that has since been added the report (which again I have not seen) of a savagely hostile committee, obviously bent upon making the worst they could of everything; and that is how the matters stand.

I need not remind you of our long work together, of the hundreds of times that we have met out of the body, and even in the presence of our Masters, and of the Lord Himself. We have a record behind us, and you know me well; was I ever an impure person? I have not changed in the least, yet you say now that I have “fallen” from the path of occultism, or rather, I suppose, that I never was really on it at all. Yet recollect how many experiences we shared, and how often it has happened that they were also corroborated by the memory of others. Have you any evidence of this “fall” beyond your own conviction that because I held certain opinions it must be so? If not, will you in justice to me look at the possibilities of the case, and consider whether it is more likely that both you and I and several others should have lived a whole life of glamour for many years (the result of that being, nevertheless, a considerable amount of good work) or that you should now for this once be misinterpreting something?

Pardon me for suggesting that there may be a mistake, but you have yourself allowed it on a far more extensive scale than this. Your theory implies that I have never seen the Masters, and that it has been an evil illusion that has sustained me by its glory and its beauty through the work and the hard struggles of twenty-three years; yet surely that illusion has led me to do work which could scarcely be supposed to be pleasing to any evil powers. My “illusion” of work under the direction of the Masters continues now as ever, and now as ever but the most elevating teaching comes to me from Them, nothing but the most perfect love and compassion. Would you have me deny Them because They have not cast me off? I will say nothing as to the knowledge that They must have had as to the advice I gave, because you would say that They also must be part of my delusion; but you can hardly think me deluded in knowing that Madame Blavatsky trusted me and worked with me though her insight must have shown her my thoughts. (I am not venturing to suggest that They do not perhaps consider that an honest error on such a point makes a man altogether bad.) I am not venturing to suggest that They or she would agree with the advice, I am not venturing to suggest that They do not perhaps consider that an honest error on such a point makes a man altogether bad, or makes it impossible to work with him.

I am not for a moment seeking to convince you that my advice is right; I always recognized that there was much to be said on both sides, and I am quite willing to accept your strong opinion as outweighing many other considerations. But may it not be possible that a man who honestly held an opinion differing from yours may yet not be an impure or abandoned person, that Madame Blavatsky and the Great Ones behind her may have recognized a good an pure intention even in this unconventionalism, and may therefore have thought it possible to use the man in the work? But your message states that you cannot work with me, even though I abandoned that advice in deference to your wishes.

A man holding such opinion cannot remain in the Theosophical Society, but must be cast out of it, even though he change the opinion, apparently! Yet even so, it should not be falsehood that he is cast out, and we have had plenty of it both from our poor dear Fullerton and Mrs. Dennis. Your message contains that inaccurate statement about daily practice and the other about epileptic fits, and (what I felt more than all) the suggestion that I was not quite honest with you at Benares. That perhaps was good for me, for it may be that I was unwittingly a little proud of being always open and honest, so that to be doubted raised for a moment a sort of outraged feeling.

Well, the thing is done now, and with all the weight of you world-wide authority I am branded as a fallen person. Even if upon reflection you do not feel quite so sure that you were right at that moment and wrong during all the previous years, there is no undoing such an action as that. I would not for a moment ask it, because to withdraw would, as it were, stultify you and convict you of acting hastily, which would not be good for your people. Yet if you can modify it in any way, or can contradict for me those things which are definitely untrue, it might perhaps be well – I don’t know. At any rate, I thought I ought to write to you with absolute frankness, so that there should be no possibility of misunderstanding that I could avoid; if I had only been with you, there never would have been any. Ask the Master plainly whether I am abandoned and fallen, and see what is the reply. Believe me when I say that I have never blamed you; I do not wish to get back into the Society, I do not seek to be rehabilitated; but I do want to clear up the position between us if possible. I know very well how hard it is when the mind is once set in a certain groove to drag it out and judge impartially; yet I hope that you may be able to make this stupendous effort, which few in the world could make. But whatever you decide, my affection remains the same.

                                                                                 Yours ever in love and confidence,

                                                                                                     C. W. Leadbeater.

The Mahatmas Visit Col. Olcott

In Col. Olcott’s Diaries, in the entry for 11th January 1907, shortly a month before he died, it is written: “Health not so good. The Mahatmas M. and K.H. visited Col. Olcott and told him he must write C.W.L. and tell him that he made too much haste in deciding the case in London. He said it should not have been made public.” This visit was witnessed by Marie Russak, an American member residing at Adyar, and Rina, Col. Olcott’s nurse.

Olcott’s Diaries show the following entry for the 12th January: “Health better. Col. Olcott feels so comforted that the Mahatmas came, and says it seems like the old days in New York when they came so often through H.P.B.” The entry for the 13th January says: “The Blessed Ones came again and heard the letter to C.W.L. and the article. They approve, and Mahatma M. dictated some of the article. He begged us to expedite matters.”

When Col. Olcott’s article was finally published in
The Theosophist (February 1907), there was skepticism and opposition among members in England and America to what was called the ‘Adyar manifestations’. There was even a suggestion that they had been engineered by Leadbeater himself, who was then in Taormina, Italy! But Olcott had recorded in his Old Diary Leaves actual visits from the two Mahatmas: Mahatma M. visited him in New York in 1877 and left him his turban, and Mahatma K.H. visited him outside Lahore in 1883.

We reproduce below portions of Col. Olcott’s article (
“Recent Conversation with the Mahatmas”). In it he makes reference to the polarization which was affecting the Theosophical Society at that time:

“The principal members of the two parties were rather startled recently by the statement of Mrs. Annie Besant (made privately, but not generally known) that she thought that she must have been under a glamour, in supposing that she had worked with Mr. Leadbeater, while he was giving such harmful teachings, – under the guidance, and in the presence of, the Mahatmas. I wished to make my own mind easy about the matter, so I asked the Mahatmas this question: “Is it then true that Mrs. Besant and Mr. Leadbeater did work together on the Higher Planes, under your guidance and instruction?” Answer. (Mahatma M.) “Most emphatically yes!” Question. “Was she right in thinking that because Mr. Leadbeater had been giving out certain teachings that were objectionable, he was not fit to be your instrument, or to be in your presence?” Answer. “No. Where can you find us perfect instruments at this stage of Evolution? Shall we withhold knowledge that would benefit humanity, simply because we have no perfect instruments to convey it to the world?” Question. “Then it is not true that they were either of them mistaken or under a glamour?” Answer. “Decidedly not. I wish you to state this publicly. (…)

The Mahatmas wished me to state in reference to the disturbances that have arisen because we deemed it wise to accept Mr. Leadbeater’s resignation from the Society, that it was right to call an Advisory Council to discuss the matter; it was right to judge the teachings to which we objected as wrong, and it was right to accept his resignation; but it was not right that the matter should have been made so public, for we should have done everything possible to prevent it becoming so, for his sake as well as for that of the Society.”

Col. Olcott passed away on 17th February 1907, and Annie Besant, having been nominated by him as his successor, was elected President of the Theosophical Society in May of that year. The Mahatmas’ visit to Olcott caused her to change her view regarding CWL but more events would still unfold in this which was one of the major crisis in the history of the Society.

CWL is reinstated in the TS

As the crisis persisted, mainly in America and in England, Annie Besant wrote a Letter to the Members of the Theosophical Society in November 1908 as a result of an appeal made to the General Council and to her “to take action to put an end to the painful condition of affairs which has arisen in consequence of certain “pernicious teaching” ascribed to Mr. C. W. Leadbeater.” In her letter, referring to the Advisory Board meeting convened in London, May 1906, which considered the charges against C. W. Leadbeater, she said:

“The so-called trial of Mr. Leadbeater was a travesty of justice. He came before judges, one of whom had declared beforehand that “he ought to be shot”; another, before hearing him, had written passionate denunciations of him; a third and fourth had accepted, on purely psychic testimony, unsupported by any evidence, the view that he was grossly immoral and a danger to the Society; in the commonest justice, these persons ought not to have been allowed to sit in judgment. As to the “evidence”, he stated at the time: “I have only just now seen anything at all of the documents, except the first letter”; on his hasty perusal of them, he stated that some of the points “are untrue, and others so distorted that they do not represent the facts”; yet it was on these points, unsifted and unproven, declared by him to be untrue and distorted, that he was condemned, and has since been attacked.”

She also commented on the “Cipher Letter” allegedly written by CWL to one of the boys in his care:

“Much has been made of a “cipher letter.” The use of cipher arose from an old story in the Theosophist, repeated by Mr. Leadbeater to a few lads; they, as boys will, took up the cipher with enthusiasm, and it was subsequently sometimes used in correspondence with the boys who had been present when the story was told. In a typewritten note on a fragment of paper, undated and unsigned, relating to an astral experience, a few words in cipher occur on the incriminated advice. Then follows a sentence, unconnected with the context, on which a foul construction has been placed. That the boy did not so read it is proved by a letter of his to Mr. Leadbeater – not sent, but shown to me by his mother – in which he expresses his puzzlement as to what it meant, as he well might. There is something very suspicious about the use of this letter. It was carefully kept away from Mr. Leadbeater, though widely circulated against the wish of the father and the mother, and when a copy was lately sent to him by a friend, he did not recognize it in its present form, and stated emphatically that he had never used the phrase with regard to any sexual act. It may go with the Coulomb and Pigott letters.”

(Emma and Alexis Coulomb were workers at the headquarters of the TS at Adyar who participated in a conspiracy with Christian missionaries in Madras against Madame Blavatsky in 1884. Richard Pigott was a journalist for The Times in London in the 1880s, well known for the 'Pigott forgeries' against Charles Stewart Parnell.)

Towards the end of her letter Annie Besant wrote:

“If the Theosophical Society wishes to undo the wrong done to him, it is for the Convention of each Section to ask me to invite his return, and I will rejoice to do so. Further, in every way that I can, outside official membership, I will welcome his co-operation, show him honor, and stand beside him. If the Theosophical Society disapprove of this, and if a two-thirds majority of members of the whole Theosophical Society demand my resignation because of this, I will ask my Master’s permission to resign. If not, is it not the time to cease from warring against chimeras, and to devote ourselves wholly to the work? The trouble is confined to a small number of American and a considerable number of British members; can they not feel that they have done their duty by two years and a half of protest, and not endeavor to coerce the remainder of the Society into a continued turmoil?”

At its meeting in December 1908 at Adyar, the General Council – the Theosophical Society’s governing body – approved by a vote of 23 out of 25, of which 13 were votes of the 14 Sections (see A Short History of the Theosophical Society compiled by Josephine Ransom), the:

Inviolable liberty of thought of every member of The Theosophical Society in all matters philosophical, religious and ethical, and his right to follow his own conscience in all such matters, without thereby imperilling his status within The Society, or in any way implicating in his opinion any member of The Society who does not assert his agreement therewith. That in pursuance of this affirmation of the individual responsibility for his own opinions, it declares there is no reason why Mr. C. W. Leadbeater should not return, if he wishes, to his place in The Society which he has in the past served so well.

Ransom recorded in her abovementioned book: “The voting for the reinstatement of Mr. Leadbeater was 21 out of 24. He accepted the invitation to return.” There were strong protests in the English Section of the TS regarding the proposal to reinstate CWL and when the Section’s Convention, held in November 1908, decided by a narrow majority in favour of the proposal, more than five hundred members resigned from the Society as a result. CWL arrived at Adyar on 10 February 1909, accompanied by the Dutch scholar Johan van Manen.

The Discovery of Krishnamurti

At Adyar CWL took up residence in the Octagonal Bungalow, also known as the River Bungalow, where he had lived in 1885. His return to Adyar after two and half years of turmoil would represent another milestone in his life and in the life of the TS. Although working strenuously from very early hours dictating letters and articles, it was his habit at around five o’clock every evening to go to the Adyar beach for a swim. One day in the second half of April 1909, while walking back from the beach with his assistant Ernest Wood, CWL told him that one of the boys he had seen on the beach had “the most wonderful aura he had ever seen, without a particle of selfishness in it”. He predicted that the boy one day “would become a spiritual teacher and a great orator.” “As great as Mrs Besant?” asked Wood. “Much greater” replied CWL. For those who knew his profound respect and admiration for Annie Besant the above statement was nothing short of extraordinary.  (Source:  Krishnamurti –The Years of Awakening by Mary Lutyens, London: John Murray, 1975).

In a question and answer session with TS members in Washington, D.C., during his lecture tour of the United States in 1922-23, which was included in the booklet
Clairvoyant Investigations by C. W. Leadbeater and “The Lives of Alcyone” (J. Krishnamurti) – Some Facts Described by Ernest Wood with Notes by C. Jinarajadasa (1947), Ernest Wood reminisced about Krishnamurti and his interaction with CWL:

I was there when Krishnamurti appeared with his father at Adyar and I knew him before Mr. Leadbeater did. He was a school boy. When we first knew Krishnamurti he was a very frail little boy, extremely weak, all his bones sticking out, and his father said more than once that he thought probably he would die, and he was having a bad time at school because he did not pay any attention to what his teachers said. He was bullied and beaten to such an extent that it seemed the boy might fade away from this life and die, and the father came to Leadbeater and said: "What shall we do?" Mr. Leadbeater said, "Take him from school and I will inform Mrs. Besant." Mrs. Besant had done much for Hindu boys. She had the Central Indian College, in which many of the boys were entirely maintained by her – food, shelter, education, everything. So it was nothing unusual for her to look after boys. Mrs. Besant was in America at the time. She replied that she would be very pleased to see to their welfare, so the two boys were taken from the school; Krishnamurti's younger brother was all right, but they didn't want to be separated; and some of us agreed to teach them a little each day so that they might be prepared to go to England for their further education. Seven or eight of us taught them a little each day. The boys used to sit in Mr. Leadbeater's or one of the adjacent rooms, with their teacher. I do not know that it could be said that Leadbeater trained him in any sort of particular way. To be anywhere near Mr. Leadbeater was a training for anybody. He made him drink milk and eat fruits. Krishnamurti did not like this. He [C.W.L.] attended to his health. He did not much like this eating fruits and milk, but did it. He also arranged for swimming and exercises in the way of cycling and other things, and they played tennis in the evening, so that very soon Krishnamurti was quite a healthy and strong boy and began to take more interest in the world. I think that he must have been always more or less psychic and therefore did not pay attention to his teacher. I noticed very soon that Krishnamurti used to collect people's thoughts, and I have seen him do some quite remarkable feats of conversation with dead people while still a little boy, and that developed quite naturally. I do not know of any special and deliberate training in that way. In Mr. Leadbeater's room and in his company, of course, he really received the best of training in courtesy, etc.

Thus began another eventful period in the life of both CWL and theTheosophical Society in which Krishnamurti would play a major role.


The Octagonal or River Bungalow at Adyar

Source: Adyar - The Home of the Theosophical Society - Views Taken Expressly by Alcyone (J. Krishnamurti) with descriptive letterpress by C.W.L.The Theosophist Office, Adyar, Madras, 1911

C. W. Leadbeater on the roof of the Headquarters building, Adyar

Source: Adyar - The Home of the Theosophical Society - Views Taken Expressly by Alcyone (J. Krishnamurti) with descriptive letterpress by C.W.L.The Theosophist Office, Adyar, Madras, 1911

View from Krishnaji’s room in the Headquarters building at Adyar. The Octagonal Bungalow is seen below, with the Adyar river on the left and the Bay of Bengal at the back. Photo by Pedro Oliveira (December 2007)

Copyright © 2023 Pedro Oliveira

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