This post is in honor of Sadaputa Prabhu (aka Richard l. Thompson). Although he was not a member of the Theosophical Society, I consider him a Theosophist in the larger sense of the term. (Some of the links below may be inactive.)
Richard Leslie Thompson, also known as Sadaputa Dasa, (1947 – September 18, 2008) was a mathematician, academic, author and American Vaishnava. He published several books and articles, including Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race (1993), co-authored with Michael Cremo. With his writings on cosmology, Darwinism and religion, he is sometimes identified as a Vedic Creationist. Richard L. Thompson was a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement or ISKCON) and a disciple of the movement’s founder A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He was also a founding member of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, an ISKCON academic think tank.
He was born in Binghamton, New York, in 1947. In 1974, Thompson received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Cornell University. He specialized in probability theory and statistical mechanics. Later, he conducted research in quantum physics and mathematical biology at the La Jolla Institute in San Diego, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. He authored seven books on science and philosophy, and wrote many articles for scientific journals and for Back To Godhead, the official magazine of ISKCON.
In 1993 Thompson co-wrote Forbidden Archeology. The book claims that humans have lived on the earth for millions, or billions, of years, and that the scientific establishment has suppressed the fossil evidence for extreme human antiquity. The authors speak about a knowledge filter (confirmation bias) as the reason for this suppression. Forbidden Archeology has attracted attention from creationists and paranormalists, but has been labeled as “pseudoscience” and “antievolutionism” by representatives of the mainstream archaeological and paleoanthropologist community. Meera Nanda in the Indian magazine Frontline called Cremo and Thompson “the intellectual force driving Vedic creationism”. In the ‘science and religion’ community he was known for his articulation of the ISKCON’s view of science. Danish historian of religion Mikael Rothstein described Thompson as “the single dominating writer on science” in ISKCON whom ISKCON has chosen to “cover the field of science more or less on his own.” C. Mackenzie Brown, professor of religion at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, described him as “the leading figure” in the ISKCON’s critique of modern science.
In 1996 Thompson and Cremo appeared on the NBC special The Mysterious Origins of Man, which was widely criticized by the scientific community. The book Forbidden Archeology provided much of the content for the program.
Thompson also researched UFO phenomena. In 1993 he wrote Alien Identities in which he explored parallels between modern UFO accounts and descriptions found within the ancient Sanskrit writings of India.
He wrote two books on Hindu cosmology, Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy (1989) and Mysteries of the Sacred Universe (2000). In the latter work Thompson argued that the cosmology of the Bhagavata Purana, one of the classical texts of Hinduism, is “a sophisticated system, with multiple levels of meaning that encode at least four different astronomical, geographical, and spiritual world models.”
In his final book, Maya: The World as Virtual Reality (2003), Thompson utilized virtual reality as a metaphor for the Hindu concept of maya:
“The basic theme is that what we can imagine doing in a virtual reality system may actually be happening in nature on a vastly greater scale. Nature may be like a computer simulation interfaced with conscious observer / participant.”
The virtual reality model is also employed to show “how both paranormal phenomena and religious experiences can be reconciled in a natural way with the laws of physics.”
He died on September 18, 2008.
Works by Richard L. Thompson
At the Feet of the Master is a book attributed to Jiddu Krishnamurti, authored when he was fourteen years old. Written under the name Alcyone, it was first published in 1910. It has since gone through dozens of editions, and has been translated in many languages.
The identity of the author has been the subject of debate. It has been proposed that C.W. Leadbeater, Krishnamurti’s mentor, was the actual producer of the work; Leadbeater had assigned him the pseudonym (Alcyone). Although it has been claimed that Krishnamurti never admitted authorship, research by S. Lloyd Williams in “Did J. Krishnamurti Write At the Feet of the Master?” has established that prior to 1934, Krishnamurti repeatedly admitted authorship of the work:
“Over many years Krishnamurti asserted countless times in print that he wrote At the Feet of the Master. He also asserted it in his own handwriting with his original signature. He started teaching the book’s teachings and discussing them with others even before the book was published.”
Krishnamurti also promoted the book during his leadership of The Order of the Star in the East:
“He spent two decades ardently advocating the book as his basic spiritual statement. Krishnamurti was over 30 years old when he required his most earnest followers to sign their acceptance of the book’s teachings as the ideals of their lives. He published and promoted At the Feet of the Master “by J. Krishnamurti” when he was in his 30s, and he earned royalties from its sales. He was still advertising and selling his own editions of his book when he was 35 years old, even after he dissolved the Order of the Star.”
Admittedly, the following is stated in the foreword: “These are not my words; they are the words of the Master who taught me.” This statement is apparently related to Leadbeater’s claim that the so-called Master Kuthumi was “releasing” the spiritual instruction that makes up the work to young Krishnamurti while the latter was asleep.
Krishnamurti’s attitude towards the book changed over time. S. Lyoyd Williams quotes Krishnamurti’s May 29, 1946 letter to Hadjipetros:
“At the Feet of the Master is not copyrighted and so anyone can translate as they please. We feel we shall not be responsible for it as it is not copyrighted, and as there have been considerable changes in our thought since it was written. The main principles in it, such as Karma, good behavior etc., are undeniable, but all the frame round it about the masters, initiation, and so on, seems an impediment to real understanding.”
The book is considered a theosophical classic, and as of 2010, it has never been out-of-print. As of the same year, early editions of the work were in the public domain within several jurisdictions.
As for the connection of the third Object and ethics, karma appears to connect the two. The third Object includes the study of the hidden laws of nature. The principle of karma is such a law, and it pertains to ethics. As the law of compensation, it measures the consequences each person receives for his or her actions. This applies as well to actions that affect others. So, by karma, how we treat others, and, more generally, how our actions affect others has a bearing on the effects we will experience in life (whether this life or a future one).
Interestingly, the Objects of the Theosophical Society do not mention Theosophy. It is worth considering why this is the case. One guess is that the fulfillment of the Objects is, in effect, a practical realization of Theosophy. That would preclude having to mention Theosophy separately. Another possible reason for the omission is that it is simply not the case that the Theosophical Society is the embodiment of Theosophy per se. Theosophy existed in the past, and continues to exist in the present as a Wisdom Tradition independent of the T.S. This is why Quest Books publishes works by numerous authors who are not members of T.S. These writers produce works that exemplify Theosophical themes even without being “card-carrying” Theosophists. A final consideration is that the members of T.S. are free to understand Theosophy in their own way. For that reason there is no official definition of Theosophy by the T.S. such that all members are obliged to subscribe to it.
There are two ways of looking at Theosophy: It is what is in common to all the religions of the world, or it is a secret tradition handed down by initiates. These two ways do not necessarily contradict. It is plausible to suppose that there is a common essence shared by all religions. But it is also plausible that on the exoteric level, not all (or even many) practitioners of the various religions are cognizant of such commonality. Many adherents of exoteric orthodoxy view their own religion as exclusively correct. But the shared essence still subsists despite such widespread ignorance. At the same time it is plausible that select members of every religion do possess the deeper insight about the shared essence of religions. These select members constitute the initiates. Arguably, these relatively enlightened persons have found ways to convey the inner meaning of their religion (i.e., the meaning shared by all religions) such that those who were ready for the insight could receive it.