Charles Johnston (Theosophist)

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Charles Johnston

Charles Johnston (1867–1931) was an Irish writer, journalist, theosophist and Sanskrit scholar.


He was born on 17 February 1867 in the small village of Ballykilbeg (in Downpatrick), County Down, Northern Ireland. His father, William Johnston (1829–1902), was an Irish politician, a member of parliament from South Belfast, and a member of the Orange Order.

Charles Johnston studied Oriental Studies, and learned Sanskrit, Russian and German. Among his classmates were William Butler Yeats[1] and George William Russell, with whom he shared an interest in the occult.[2]

Later, Johnston worked as a journalist. In 1884, he read Alfred Percy Sinnett's work The Occult World and founded, together with Yeats and Russell on 16 June 1885, the Hermetic Society in Dublin.[3] He was responsible for introducing Yeats to Madame Blavatsky[3] in spring 1887.[4]

After 1885 he also joined the Theosophical Society, and co-founded in April/June 1886 the Theosophical Lodge in Dublin.[4] Later when the Theosophical Society split in 1895, he followed the direction of William Quan Judge and was a member of the Theosophical Society in America (TGinA). After Judge's death the following year, Katherine Tingley came to head the organization. Then in 1898, Johnston, who had initially supported Tingley, seceded from Tingley's organization along with some 200 other members led by Ernest Temple Hargrove to form the Theosophical Society in America (Hargrove) Branch.

On 14 October 1888 he married Vera Vladimirovna de Zhelihovsky (1864–1923)[5], the niece of Helena Blavatsky.[3] He also entered the Indian Civil Service the same year,[3] and later served in the British Bengal Service. Johnston translated several works from Sanskrit and Russian. As an author, he devoted himself primarily to philosophical and theosophical topics.

Johnston was president of the Irish Literary Society.[6]


Collected writings[edit]

  • Johnston, Charles, The Mukhya Upanishads: Books of Hidden Wisdom
  • Johnston, Charles, The Tao Teh King: Lao Tse’s Book of the Way and of Righteousness
  • Johnston, Charles, The Vedanta Philosophy of Sankaracharya
  • Johnston, Charles, The Bhagavad Gita: The Songs of the Master
  • Johnston, Charles, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Book of the Spiritual Man
  • Johnston, Charles, Hidden Wisdom: The Collected Writings of Charles Johnston, Vol. I]
  • Johnston, Charles, Hidden Wisdom: The Collected Writings of Charles Johnston, Vol. II
  • Johnston, Charles, Hidden Wisdom: The Collected Writings of Charles Johnston, Vol. III
  • Johnston, Charles, Hidden Wisdom: The Collected Writings of Charles Johnston, Vol. IV

Theosophical books[edit]

  • Useful Sanskrit Nouns and Verb in English Letters. London: Luzac, 1892. Text available online at Internet Archive. Advertised on page 59 of Luzac's Oriental List and Book Review, Volume 4 by Luzac & Co., booksellers. Advertisement is available online at Google Books.
  • The Awakening to the Self. Translation of Sankarâchârya. New York: Johnston, 1897.
  • From the Upanishads. Portland, ME: Thomas Mosher, 1899. Available online at Internet Archive and Hathitrust.
  • The Memory of Past Births. New York: Theosophical Society Publishing Co., 1899. Available to Internet Archive and Hathitrust.
  • Karma: Works and Wisdom. New York : Metaphysical Pub. Co., 1900. Available at hathtrust.
  • The Song of Life. Flushing, NY: Charles Johnston, 1901. A translation of the "dialogue of Janaka and the sage", preceded by "a modern paraphrase of the Teachings". Available at Internet Archives.
  • The Bhagavad-gîta: "The Songs of the Master". Flushing, N.Y.: C. Johnston, 1908. Available online at Internet Archive.
  • Parables of the Kingdom. Flushing, NY: Charles Johnston, 1909.
  • The system of the Vedânta according to Bâdarâyaṇa's Brahma-sûtras and Cankara's commentary thereon set forth as a compendium of the dogmatics of brahmanism from the standpoint of Çankara. Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1912. Available at Internet Archive and Hathitrust.
  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. New York: Quarterly Book Department, 1912. Available online at Wikisource and Hathitrust.
  • Eastern and Western Psychology: a Theosophical Need. New York: Theosophical Society, 1917.
  • The Great Upanishads, Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Upanishads Volume 1. New York: Quarterly Book Department, 1927.
  • The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom by Śankarâchârya. San Diego: Theosophical University Press, 1946. Translated by Charles Johnston. Available at Theosophical University Press Online.

Popular books[edit]

  • Kela Bai: An Anglo-Indian Idyll. New York: Doubleday & McClure, 1900. Novel. Available at Internet Archive.
  • Ireland: Historic and Picturesque. Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates & Co., 1902. Illustrated travelogue. Available at Internet Archive and a second Internet Archive version.
  • Ireland's Story. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1905, 1923. Written with Carita Spencer. Illustrated history of Ireland. Available at Internet Archive.
  • Why the World Laughs. New York: Harper & Bros, 1912. A book of humorous stories from many countries. Available at Internet Archive and Hathitrust.


External links[edit]