Geoffrey Farthing (1909-2004)
Life And Work of Geoffrey Farthing - The Autobiographic Testimony Of a Leading Theosophist
A biographical account and tribute to the life and work of Geoffrey Farthing
This evaluation only needs one minute or so, from the chronological point of view. Yet its informal preparatory process has extended all along one’s existence ― starting from the very beginning.
The fact is that we humans have a small but renewing death at each night’s sleep, as we go out of our bodies, and a new rebirth every morning, as we come back.
There are strong reasons, then, for the Pythagorean tradition to say that every night students should make a revision of what what they did during the day. “Live each day as if it were your last”, wrote Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor who was a philosopher. And Marcus Aurelius was but repeating a lesson from his teacher Musonius Rufus.
In the case of Geoffrey Farthing (1909-2004) we can share part of the content belonging to the revision of a long and fruitful life. One of the practical instruments for this sharing is in the dialogue below, which also presents us with some significant scenes of British history, and a bit of life’s flavor according to a remarkable truth-seeker.  Other interesting autobiographic fragments from Geoffrey can be found in the first pages of his books “Deity, Cosmos & Man” (Point Loma Publications, 1993) and “When We Die” (Point Loma Publications, 1994).
Geoffrey was one of the best-known theosophical leaders and authors in the second half of the 20th century. When he died in 30 May 2004 ― at 94 ― he had friends all over the world. His books were translated only into Spanish language, perhaps ― a task well done by José Ramón Sordo in Mexico ―; yet Farthing’s inspiring influence was much more widely spread than his writings.
In February 2000, he wrote in an letter to his friends around the world:
This idea is at the core of Farthing’s legacy to students of esoteric philosophy in the 21st century.
When the following questions were submitted to him, in November 2000, many could see the central importance that Geoffrey Farthing’s work had had in keeping at least part of the Adyar TS open to the real Theosophy and free from its false versions. His answers - both by email and in an air mail paper document signed by him are a dialogue that reviews his life and discusses the theosophical movement, its illusions and its future.
Q When and where were you born? GAF I was born in a place called Heaton Mersey near Manchester in Lancashire, England, on 10th December 1909. The place was a small community clustered round a dye-works. In those days Lancashire supplied the best part of the world with cotton goods. My father used to say that the mills there could satisfy the U.K. home demand working in a few hours on Saturday morning. All the rest was exported. It was a period of expansion and prosperity just prior to the outbreak of the 1st World War. I remember that event. We were on holiday in a place called St Anne’s-on-Sea and I had been sent at breakfast-time to the local newsagent to get the daily papers. I then had a few copper coins to pay for them. I handed the man the money and I can remember him saying, “When you go home tell your father that war has been declared.” That did not mean much to me then but I know it caused a good deal of excitement at home. Little did we know what we were in for. Apart from the plethora of stories about the 1st World War that there are, our family was one of the tragic ones. My mother lost all of her 7 brothers: 5 of them were killed outright, 2 of them were gassed and died later.
I went to a local Nursery School. One day sitting in the classroom we heard a droning noise and the teacher said, “That’s an aeroplane”, and we all went outside to see this thing in the sky. I do not remember the date of that but it was somewhere between 1914 and 1916. Only the well-to-do had motor cars then. We were fortunate enough to have the use of one which belonged to my father’s company (The General Electric Company of England). My next school was some miles away; this involved a journey in a very rattly solid-tyred autobus. Horses had mostly been superceded for public transport but they were used still for commercial purposes, especially by tradesmen for delivery purposes. The heavier horse-drawn vehicles were replaced for a relatively short time by steam-powered ones. These were superceded by petrol-driven lorries, vans, etc., soon after the war.
Eventually at the age of about 10 I went to a boarding school at Eastbourne where I was reasonably happy and enjoyed playing the team games that were then the fashion such as cricket and rugby football. After that, at the age of 13 or 14 I went to an English Public School (very private and fee-paying) in Buckinghamshire. The school was situated in the large house, virtually a palace, that had belonged at one time to the Dukes of Buckingham, set in 500 acres of beautiful parkland and gardens. I was indeed happy there. I passed the requisite exams at an early age and thereafter entered what was called the Upper School where one then enjoyed the use of a private study together with one other student colleague. That was good fun but of course I was far too young to be granted the privilege and thereafter did nearly no work until I was 17. However, I certainly enjoyed every minute of my time in that beautiful place.
One point of interest about my school life was that I was very attracted to the Church services. These played a significant part in my life. Another significant event was our preparation for ‘Confirmation’. This is when one is confirmed into the Anglican Church. The ceremony is conducted by a Bishop; in this case it was the Bishop of Oxford. The preparation took about a year, i.e. 3 terms at school, and they were conducted by my form Master who was an ordained Parson - an elderly man whom everybody liked and who was obviously very sincere in his religious beliefs. Some of this brushed off onto us. We were given a terrific build-up about what Confirmation meant: we were going to be admitted into the companionship of Christ; we would be endowed with strength to combat our sins and weaknesses; we would be in a fellowship of like-minded people also dedicated to Christian service - in other words a close-knit and holy fellowship.
On the day of Confirmation I was very excited. During the service I could hardly contain myself until it came my turn to be blessed by the Bishop. I can remember him moving along boy by boy from the right until it came my turn, and then the laying-on of hands. I waited expectantly for all the wonderful things we had been told would happen. I waited in vain - nothing happened! I got up and filed out with the other boys very dejected. Why had I been rejected? Why had I not been admitted to this fellowship that we had heard so much about? Why was I not endowed with strength? I asked one of the other boys what had happened to him and he very mater-of-fact replied, “Nothing, what did you expect?” I could hardly believe it. Was all that preparation we had been through a charade for nothing? That was probably the beginning of my quest which led me into Theosophy.
After leaving school I became an apprentice in a large electrical engineering works near Manchester. At the same time I attended night school to get some theoretical qualifications. The significance of this experience from a theosophical point of view is that I made the acquaintance of an Indian who was also apprenticed at the same works and we used to have lunch together. The conversation got round to religion fairly early on. He was a Brahmin and very well versed in the Indian scriptures. I got another view altogether of religion from him but was amazed when eventually he said that all the wonderful things that he had told me about their scriptures he no longer believed. He had become completely westernized; his views were entirely dictated by scientific knowledge and thought. However, he had opened my eyes to another point of view altogether and set me thinking.
Q When where, did you have the first clearly spiritual or theosophical perceptions of life? How and what was your life before knowing the Theosophical Society? GAF One night towards the end of my apprenticeship, what my Indian friend had told me so upset my Christian beliefs that I decided to go and see what the local parson had to say. He was a very senior member of the Church, a venerable Canon, who had recently conducted the marriage service for my sister. We held the Canon in very high regard. One evening I telephoned him and asked if I could come to see him. There was obviously some urgency in my voice and he said, “Well, I can fit you in for 10 minutes but I have another appointment. Come as quickly as you can.” I ran all the way there and arrived breathless at the vicarage. He opened the door himself, showed me into his study, sat me down and asked me what was the matter. I told him the story of the Indian and his scriptures and beliefs (not the scientific ones) and asked how Christianity as he saw it compared with the specific things that the Indian had told me. These raised questions concerning the nature of God, the idea of Jesus having died for us (vicarious atonement), what happened after death, and so on. It soon became quite obvious that the dear Canon had no real answers to these questions. As I sat listening to him talk I came to a dreadful decision, and that was unless God manifested himself in some palpable way to me in the Canon’s study there and then, I would renounce him. I would not believe any more that he existed. I waited for some awful thing to happen - the floor to open and the earth to swallow me up, or a thunderbolt to strike me dead - I waited and waited and nothing happened. Then suddenly I was filled with an uncontainable elation and had a great urge to get out of that study as quickly as I could. I am afraid that I was a bit rude to the old man but I made the excuse that he had said he had only a little time and that I did not want to impose on him any longer. He got up and showed me to the door although I do not think he had really finished what he was saying. He must have been very surprised at my haste to get out. I can still hear him saying as I parted from him, “You must have faith, my son”.
Outside the feeling of elation and happiness was amplified to a greater and greater extent. It seemed to me that although I was actually walking home, my feet were not touching the ground. It was an incredible experience. From then on, right through till the 2nd World War, I was consciously on a quest to discover TRUTH. This led me through all sorts of highways and byways, and meetings with all sorts of people. My stock question was, “Have you a religion? ... Tell me about it.”
Q When did you get in touch with the Theosophical Society? Which theosophical books did you first read? GAF At the end of the 1920's when work was very scarce I very fortunately got a job in London. There was then a severe depression. A whole series of ‘coincidences’ eventually took me to the Theosophical Society in London with its wonderful library. From that I borrowed many books for a few years and began a longish process of self-education in Theosophy. It got more and more thrilling the more I knew about it.
One day my enthusiasm for my new-found subject got the better of me and I invited an old school friend to come to the Theosophical Society to hear a lecture given by a well-known theosophical lady on “The Masters”. This was in Besant Hall at the back of 50 Gloucester Place. It was the occasion of an Easter Convention which the Society at that time held regularly. The speaker was oddly dressed in a green gown with yellow lightning flashes across it and large triangular-shaped sleeves which she theatrically showed off at every opportunity. It was ludicrous and my friend and I got the giggles. We tried to suppress our laughter but we really could not. Eventually an usher came up to us and said that even if we did not want to listen to the lecture, others did, and would we mind going out. That was my first acquaintance with the Theosophical Society. Thereafter I thought nothing would induce me to join!
Soon after that the war broke out and I joined the army. Then again an interesting thing happened. All my exuberant interest in Theosophy switched off immediately like turning off a light and I took no more interest in the subject until 5 years later when the war finished. I was then up in Scotland. One day I walked down a street in Edinburgh where, in a bookshop window, I saw a book by Paul Brunton called “A Search in Secret Egypt”. I bought it and slowly as I read all my enthusiasms were rekindled. I started on my quest again in earnest. I got more books out of the theosophical library including “The Secret Doctrine”, which did not make much sense to me at that time, and many others nearly all by Annie Besant or C.W. Leadbeater. Even so, they were thrilling. These people seemed to know what they were talking about and had a great facility for expressing their ideas. I studied nothing else for two or three years and became really familiar with the theosophical system from that point of view.
Then an odd thing happened. I had met John Coats, then General Secretary of the Society in England. One night he invited me to dinner and one of his brothers was present. This brother voiced the views of the family about John having joined the Theosophical Society and given up a directorship of their family company, J & P Coats. This had upset his father very much and the brothers resented his leaving the firm. For all this, Theosophy and the Theosophical Society were to blame. The brother spent the best part of the dinner time trying to tell John what a mistake he had made, that there was nothing in this superstitious nonsense called Theosophy and that the Society was certainly not worth the sacrifices he had made for it. For some amazing reason I felt I must defend the Society. I proceeded to tell the brother that he knew nothing about Theosophy and that if he had done he could not possibly speak as he had. As I was saying these things my whole attitude towards the Society changed completely. I had espoused its cause; I had become sympathetic to it. Somehow or another I felt that I belonged to it and that from here on I must not only join but support it and work for it. This was a very strong feeling.
Within the next day or so I got in touch with John and told him of this ‘conversion’ and asked to become a member, which I eventually did. In about 1948 when the war was over I was demobilized from the army. My job, which had been kept for me, was in Yorkshire. There I joined the Leeds Lodge and met up with other older, senior and well-versed theosophists before whom I felt a very inadequate beginner.
One night at the Lodge an old man came to lecture and he is the one whom I talk about in the ‘Notes on the Author’ given in the beginning of “Deity, Cosmos and Man” [ pp. XXI-XXII].
From then on my quest on the theosophical journey is outlined until the climax mentioned in that account occurred. Thereafter I have met a number of interesting people and have had a lot of experiences. It would take far to long to recount them. However, my foot was then firmly planted on the theosophical road and the process of self-education has gone on right up to the present time.
An interesting thing is that, whereas I have done much writing and other things for the theosophical cause, everything I have written and everything I have done has been spontaneous. There has not been any previous planning or clear object in view. I have just done what came to be done. This has entailed a considerable amount of work over a very long time.
Q What about your profession and family? GAF I have told you of my profession; Electrical Engineer, working nearly all my life with the nationalized industry in Yorkshire. I was in charge of about 100 shops, service centres as they were called, of contracting (wiring factories, shops and homes), advertising shows and distribution, appliance testing, repair and reconditioning, etc.
None of this had any relation to Theosophy. I am unmarried, had no family. My father did not know about Theosophy at all. He was a Freemason. My mother called it “a lot of silly nonsense”. Why could I not be like other men?
Q How did you discover the enormous distance in occult quality between the original exposition of Theosophy (HPB-Masters) and its second version, by C.W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant? Did you have, then, a sense of having lost time? GAF My discovery of the differences came about from John Coats having given me a copy of “The Mahatma Letters”, with their detailed account of what happens after death. This account does not reconcile with what is given in the Leadbeater/Besant literature. One of the major differences is the matter of the Etheric Double. I could simply not reconcile the two teachings on that score. At first I felt that I was not understanding either of them properly and that the limitation was mine. I could not believe that well-informed and gifted people like Leadbeater and Besant had ‘got it wrong’. Somehow or another the fault lay in me and I wrestled over this problem for perhaps 2 years. During this time I studied in detail the classification of man’s principles from both points of view (e.g. Blavatsky in “The Key to Theosophy”) and tried hard to reconcile them, but they are not reconcilable. Eventually of course this led to my publishing the booklet “THE ETHERIC DOUBLE? The Far-Reaching Effects of a false assumption ”.
Another point of great difficulty was the Masters’ views on religion and the close association of the Liberal Catholic church with the Theosophical Society. This again is irreconcilable.
As to my reactions on making these discoveries, I had been so long in the process that I was not surprised or dismayed but I do remember having to make a decision as to whether from then on I was going to accept the Masters as teachers or the Leadbeater/Besant partnership. In the light of all the evidence obviously it had to be the Masters and H.P.B., and this I did. Having made that decision everything else seemed to fall into place. All the problems and difficulties were eradicated.
Q What is the impact and influence of institutions like Liberal Catholic Church and Masonry over the theosophical movement as originally conceived by the Mahatmas and H.P.B.? GAF I was never attracted to Masonry but under the influence of John Coats I could have become very interested in the Church. I do not know how I was saved from this but my ‘mentor’ as described in “Deity, Cosmos and Man” indicated very clearly to me that such institutions, whilst they made one feel comfortable as a member of a brotherhood or other worthy group, they did nothing whatever to further one’s real spiritual growth. That was entirely a matter for one’s self. Having genuinely discovered that my attraction to the Church disappeared completely.
I was President of the T.S. in England from 1969 to 1972. During this time I let it be known quite openly that I was a Master/H.P.B. man; this was not acceptable to the generality of members. There was a strong Church and Masonic faction in the Society, the members of which eventually got together and voted me out of office. This was a considerable blow to me as I had given up my job - quite a lucrative one and of some influence - to come and work for the Society. Being voted out was a hurtful experience but in a way it was a blessing. I was free of all other duties and could get on with my study and my writing.
Q Along the 20th century, especially after the decade of the 20s, HPB/Masters literature slowly regained room. “The Collected Writings of H.P.B.” took decades to appear in 14 volumes plus an index volume. The “Mahatma Letters to A.P.Sinnett” and the “Letters From the Masters of the Wisdom” got translated to several languages and attracted more and more attention among the students. Now there are some 20 biographies of H.P.B. And yet it seems to be far from enough. What else should be done? GAF Concerning the resuscitation of interest in the Master/H.P.B. literature, I feel that this has been very slow and hardly perceptible in the Adyar Society. I do not think we need any more literature at this time, whether it be biographies on H.P.B. or anything else. What we have to do is to try to encourage people to read what we already have.
About the future of the T.S., I do not have a crystal ball. My feeling is that, if the Adyar Society persists in its present strategies, with its ignorance of the Masters/H.P.B. literature and the idolizing of Krishnamurti, it will just fade out. It does not really stand for anything. What life there is in the other theosophical movements I do not really know, except that there are obviously only a few very earnest students. Hopefully these can get together in my Association and form a cadre of true workers for the cause, knowing what they are doing.
Concerning freedom of thought, in my view this has been hopelessly distorted. As put over in the 1920's it was quite obviously an expedient to allow anybody’s opinion, well-informed or otherwise, to be regarded as Theosophy. This was a fatal mistake. In point of fact no one can interfere with anybody else’s thought. What they can do is to try to impose a dogma, i.e. a compulsory belief, and to some extent the Leadbeater/Besant leadership succeeded in doing that in that they got the Liberal Catholic Church and Masonry accepted as Theosophy, and later of course Krishnamurti as a world teacher. All this had nothing to do with freedom of thought proper and in my view much of the later views about the Masters is superstition.
Of course I agree that anybody should be able to read any literature they like, by whatever author it may be. I see it as vitally important that people should be free in every respect. We can only develop healthily in an atmosphere of complete freedom.
Q Do you believe that putting on an equal level, under the item of liberty of thought, the real teaching and a teaching distorted by fancies, induces the next generations of students to unnecessarily lose an important amount of time in their lives, before knowing what’s true and what is false? GAF Here again I think people must make up their own minds. The big difficulty is that people do not read the original literature and have therefore no true yardstick to help them decide the quality of whatever it is they are reading. This becomes a difficult matter especially when some of the 2nd generation literature purports to have come from the Masters. How are we going to know whether or not it did unless we are familiar with the Masters’ scheme of things, their style of writing, etc. Here again we have to be careful because I do believe that people with the proper faculties working can be inspired by true spiritual entities. Surely the criterion must be the quality of what is uttered. For example, any reversion to an idea of God, particularly in the anthropomorphic sense, would indicate that whoever is writing has not got a true vision. Similarly a lot of nonsense is put out about the after-death states and ideas of forgiveness of sins.
Q Some people think that HPB literature, written in the 19th century, is “outdated”. The same people use to study other texts which are thousands of years old. Why is HPB not “outdated”? Could the eternal be outdated? GAF It is a view of no substance at all and could only be uttered by anyone who had not read the classical literature. The literary idiom might be outdated but what is said is eternal Truth, unchanging, and in our Manvantara unchangeable. People use the words ‘up-to-date’ nowadays in relation to fashions. Such a word could not possibly be applied to Theosophy with its “eternal verities”.
Q What’s your view of the work of the HPB-Masters students ?  This question has been somewhat adapted here. Originally, it referred to the Association of the Master/HPB Association, an informal group of theosophists from various countries and organizations, created by GAF in 2000. This association did not proceed after his death. Yet Geoffrey ’s answer remains verbatim and it really refers to all HPB/Masters students. GAF My view ... is that, with modern communication, we might form a body of really energetic enthusiastic people who can act as ‘radiation points’ in the parts of the world in which they happen to be situated. At this time I am very concerned to revivify an interest in the original teachings. For example, I had hoped that my Trilogy  “Modern Theosophy, Origins and Intentions - A Trilogy” , G.A. Farthing, The Theosophical Publishing House, (London), 1999, 54 pp would have given people an idea of what was entailed in the writing of “Isis Unveiled” and “The Secret Doctrine”. Most members of the theosophical movement have no idea of what was demanded of H.P.B. or of the close cooperation that she then enjoyed with the Masters. Further, I do not think that many people have any idea of what a Master of the Wisdom is. The idea of a Master has become too hackneyed through movements like “I Am”, and the claims of other individuals to be channelling Masters’ messages. It is quite obvious that they are not, but the channellers have not studied the real Masters’ literature and therefore do not have a proper background against which to talk.
Another area of diversion is in the pronouncements of the psychics, even of the stature of Rudolph Steiner. He did good work in establishing his schools, etc., and much of what he said about the germination of seeds is verified by experience but the background framework of knowledge that he adopted was not that of the Masters ...
Geoffrey A. Farthing. (Answers dated and signed 22nd November 2000)