Leland on Leadbeater

Leslie [Price]: C.W. Leadbeater remains a controversial figure in the TS. As one of the few persons to produce a scholarly edition of one of his books (the best-selling The Chakras), can you see how we can come to a balanced appreciation of his contribution?

Kurt [Leland] : I’ve come to see Leadbeater neither as a saint (an often encountered assessment in certain TS circles) nor as a “monster of depravity” (to use his own words to sum up reactions in some sections of the TS and beyond), but as a flawed human being trying to master socially and spiritually pernicious motivations—allegedly including pedophilic tendencies—and not always succeeding. Let me be clear that it is the pedophilia and not necessarily the homosexuality that I consider pernicious, and that I use the word pernicious only with regard to behaviors that were damaging to himself, others, and the Theosophical movement. The various exposures and scandals helped to keep him in check and could be seen as karmic interventions, perhaps even motivated by the Masters, to make sure that a valuable worker did not wander too far astray and to remind him that too much was at stake to be sacrificed for mere personal pleasure, especially when the psychological and spiritual well-being of his young male charges and the reputation of the TS were at stake.

CWL Leland

As a society, we have learned since his time that it is always wise to make sure that there is more than one adult about whenever adults are supervising children. And with regard to persons of spiritual authority, we have also learned the detrimental effects of creating an air of superior knowledge and a charisma that bewitches people’s common sense and allows them to be manipulated or abused. Certainly unmerited claims of social or intellectual status or of wonderful if not miraculous physical or spiritual adventures—for example, the many untruths Leadbeater told to enhance his position in the eyes of others—have accompanied the establishment of spiritual movements preceding, contemporaneous with, and following Leadbeater’s involvement with the TS. Such things are important considerations for understanding the development of spiritual and religious movements within academia.

When we have set aside these personal and historical elements, what we have left is the value of Leadbeater’s teachings. I believe we are unwise if we accept them without acknowledging the personality flaws, but equally unwise if we reject them wholesale because of these flaws. Through studying various other movements, I’ve come to the conclusion that the clearer the information that is available to a teacher, the more likely it is that that teacher will fall as a result of personality flaws. They fall so that their followers are forced to take back the spiritual authority they gave up by joining such movements. This is a natural evolutionary process, and Leadbeater simply represents an expression of it within the TS. The larger teaching is that it isn’t safe or helpful for us to accept what any spiritual teacher says without examining its validity and usefulness for ourselves. We must develop discernment as well as reliance on our own internal spiritual authority.

Much of what Leadbeater taught has passed into New Age lore without question or challenge—though the people who pass it on are often unaware of its origins and may have developed or improved upon it. I think current scholarship should make those origins clear. Much of what has not been perceived as useful in Leadbeater’s teachings—for example, the voluminous information on the past lives of various TS members—has been forgotten, and probably rightly so. In general, I think the principles he taught are often valid and useful, but the details used to illustrate them may be subject to personal and cultural limitations. They can’t be taken literally, but they shouldn’t be entirely dismissed. Thus rehabilitation of Leadbeater would require extracting the principles from the historical and personal context in which they’re embedded. I’ve sometimes thought that a reader’s guide to Leadbeater’s writings might demonstrate how that sorting could be done, not only as a lesson in the development of discernment, but also as a means of assessing his legacy and influence on later developments in spiritualist, Theosophical, and New Age thought.

From: Leslie Price “Facing the Third Object: An Interview with Kurt Leland” Quest Spring 2018 106:2, 17-19. Full text available on-line at: https://www.theosophical.org/publications/quest-magazine/4451

Kurt Leland photo

For Kurt Leland, see: http://www.kurtleland.com/

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