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Humphreys, Travers Christmas

(1901-1983). Founder of the London Buddhist Society and a prominent theosophical author who became Chairman of the Mahatma Letters Trust. Travers Christmas Humphreys was born into a family in which his given names had been traditional for over two centuries.

 Travers Christmas Humphreys
                Travers Christmas Humphreys

As a boy the wartime death of his much-loved elder brother shocked Humphreys into the understanding that no dogmatic form of religion could ever satisfy his needs, and he discovered Buddhism. On going to Cambridge to read Law, Humphreys heard of Theosophy. He joined the Theosophical Society (TS), and, while studying The Secret Doctrine and The Voice of the Silencehe formed great respect for Helena P. BLAVATSKY. Her picture hung over the head of his bed until his dying day and another copy of the same picture was to have pride of place in the future Buddhist Society.

He joined the Cambridge Lodge of the TS, in course of time becoming its President, and, on his return to London, plunged into the promotion of Buddhism and Theosophy and founded a Youth Lodge. He later went to a TS Congress in Vienna where he met the young KRISHNAMURTI, who liked the idea of the Youth Lodge and agreed to be President of a Federation which Humphreys then founded. This eventually became the INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF YOUNG THEOSOPHIST. During the next three years he was instrumental in founding three more Lodges one of which became the Buddhist Lodge.

In 1924 Christmas Humphreys was called to the Bar and this was the commencement of a distinguished career. He was later to rise to become a Judge at the Old Bailey, being nicknamed “the Gentle Judge.”

Humphreys faced the same problem that Henry S. OLCOTT had faced more than half a century earlier when endeavoring to present Buddhism to the West: the absence of agreement between the various sects. He took the same course of action as Olcott and with his incisive legal mind and deep spiritual insight, shook off the clutter of centuries and compiled “12 Principles of Buddhism” (to be found in his book entitled Buddhism). During his visits to the East, Humphreys spent sessions with leaders of every Buddhist School, letting them help refine the 12 Principles until some degree of general acceptance was attained.

After the 1959 invasion of Tibet, at the request of the Dalai Lama, Humphreys visited and reported on all of the exile camps in India, and then assisted His Holiness in creating a Council of Tibet to co-ordinate work for the Tibetans in exile and the preservation of Tibetan Buddhism.

After the death of Trevor Barker, Humphreys and Elsie Benjamin were appointed trustees of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, and he spent nearly five years preparing the 3rd edition. He was also a founder trustee of the Blavatsky Trust, supporting Geoffrey Farthing. Together with Elsie Benjamin, Humphreys edited an abridged version of Helena P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine.

Christmas Humphreys died in London on April 13, 1983, aged 82 years. Shortly before his death he gave to the English Section of the TS some articles, photographs and manuscripts which belonged to Blavatsky.


Abridgment of the Secret Doctrine, with Elizabeth Preston. T.P.H., 1968.

The Field of Theosophy. T.P.H. London, 1966.

The Search Within. Sheldon Press, 1979 — since 1982 by T.P.H., London. 

Buddhism. Penguin Books, 1951. 

Concentration and Meditation. The Buddhist Society, 1935.

Karma and Rebirth. John Murray, 1943.

A Popular Dictionary of Buddhism. Arco, 1962.

Teach Yourself Zen (Zen a Way of Life). English University Press, 1962.

Zen Buddhism. George Allen & Unwin, 1949

Zen Comes West. George Allen & Unwin, 1960.

The Wisdom of Buddhism (A Buddhist Anthology). Michael Joseph, 1960. 


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