OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series (1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
IF I should fail to introduce the episode of our brief and unpleasant connection with Swami Dayânand Sarasvati and his Arya Samaj, this could not be called a true history of the beginnings of our Society. I should prefer to omit it altogether if I could, for it is not agreeable to record the details of vanished hopes, bitter misunderstandings, and faded illusions. Now that both H. P. B. and the Swami are dead, and that sixteen years have passed since we voted for a blending of the two societies together, I feel at liberty to give the clue to what has been hitherto a sort of mystery as regards the incident, and to explain the hidden causes of the union and subsequent quarrel between the great Pandit and ourselves.
I have told all that concerns the formation of the Theosophical Society; how it originated; what were its avowed aims and objects; and how it gradually faded into a small, compact body, of which the two Founders were the dual energy: a mere nucleus of the present
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organisation. I make bold to say that not a line can be produced which goes to show that our religious opinions were ever concealed or misrepresented, to whatsoever exoteric creed our correspondents may have belonged. If, therefore, Swami Dayânand and his followers ever misunderstood our position and that of the Theosophical Society, the fault was theirs, not ours. Our two hearts drew us towards the Orient, our dreams were of India, our chief desire to get into relations with the Asiatic people. No way, however, had yet opened on the physical plane, and our chance of getting out to our Holy Land seemed very slight, until one evening in the year 1877 an American traveller, who had recently been in India, called. He happened to sit so that, in looking that way I noticed on the wall above him the framed photograph of the two Hindû gentlemen with whom I had made the Atlantic passage in 1870. I took it down, showed it to him, and asked if he knew either of the two. He did know Moolji Thackersey and had quite recently met him in Bombay. I got the address, and by the next mail wrote to Moolji about our Society, our love for India and what caused it. In due course he replied in quite enthusiastic terms, accepted the offered diploma of membership, and told me about a great Hindû pandit and reformer, who had begun a powerful movement for the resuscitation of pure Vedic religion. At the same time he introduced to my notice, in complimentary terms, one Hurrychund Chintamon, President of the Bombay Arya Samaj, with whom I chiefly
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corresponded thereafter; and whose evil treatment of us on arrival at Bombay is a matter of history. The latter nominated several Hindû gentlemen of Bombay for membership, spoke most flatteringly of Swami Dayânand, and brought about an exchange of letters between the latter and myself as chiefs of our respective societies. Mr. Hurrychund wrote to me, on reading my explanations of our views as to the impersonality of God—an Eternal and Omnipresent Principle which, under many different names, was the same in all religions—that the principles of the Arya Samaj were identical with our own, and suggested that, in that case, it was useless to keep up two societies, when by amalgamating we would increase our powers of usefulness and our chances of success.1 Neither then nor ever since have I cared for the empty honour of leadership, and so I was but too glad to take second place under the Swami, whom I was made to look up to as immeasurably my superior in every respect. The letters of my Bombay correspondents, my own views about Vedic philosophy, the fact of his being a great Sanskrit pandit and actually playing the part of a Hindu Luther, prepared me to believe without difficulty what H. P. B. told me later about him. This was neither more nor less than that he was an adept of the Himalayan Brotherhood inhabiting the Swami’s body; well known to our own teachers, and in relations with them for the accomplishment of the work
1For a full statement of the case, with documentary proofs, see Extra Supplement, Theosophist, July, 1882.
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he had in hand. What wonder that I was as ready as possible to fall in with Hurrychund’s scheme to amalgamate the T. S. with the Arya Samaj, and to sit at the Swami’s feet as pupil under a master! To make such a connection I should have been ready, if required, to be his servant and to have rendered him glad service for years to come, without hope of reward. So, the matter being explained to my colleagues in New York, our Council, in May, 1878, passed a vote to unite the two societies and change the title of ours to “The Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj.” This was notified to the Swami, and in due time he returned to me the draft of a new Diploma (now before me as I write) which I had sent him, signed, as requested, with his name and stamped with his own seal. I had this engraved, issued it to a few members who wished to enlist under the new scheme, and put forth a circular reciting the principles under which we intended to work.
So far all went well, but, in due course, I received from India an English translation of the rules and doctrines of the Arya Samaj, made by Pandit Shyamji Krishnavarma, a protégé of the Swami’s which gave us a great shock—gave me, at least. Nothing could have been clearer than that the Swami’s views had radically changed since the preceding August, when the Lahore Arya Samaj published his defence of his Veda Bhâshya against the attacks of his critics, in the course of which he quoted approvingly the opinions of Prof. Max Müller, Messrs. Colebrooke, Garrett, and others, that the God of
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the Vedas was an impersonality. It was evident that the Samaj was not identical in character with our Society, put rather a new sect of Hinduism—a Vedic sect accepting Swami Dayânand’s authority as supreme judge as to which portions of the Vedas and Shâstras were and were not infallible. The impossibility of carrying out the intended amalgamation became manifest, and we immediately reported that fact to our Indian colleagues. The Theosophical Society resumed its status quo ante; and H. P. B. and I drafted and the Council put out two circulars, one defining what the Theosophical Society was, the other (dated September, 1878), defining a new body, the “Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj of Aryavart,” as a bridge between the two mother societies, giving in detail the translation of the A. S. rules, etc., and leaving our members perfectly free to join the “link-society”, as I called it, and comply with its by-laws, or not.
Our London Branch, which after more than two years of preliminary pourparlers, had formally organised on the 27the June 1878, under the title of the “British Theosophical Society,”1 issued its first public circular as “The British Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj of Aryavart.” If the digression may be excused, I will quote here, for their historical interest, some passages Out of my copy of this circular, viz.:
1Under the presidence of the late Dr. Anna Kingsford, the Branch name was changed in the year 1884 to that of the “London Lodge of the Theosophical Society”, which it still bears.
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“1. The British Theosophical Society is founded for the purpose of discovering the nature and powers of the human soul and spirit by investigation and experiment.
“2. The object of the Society is to increase the amount of human health, goodness, knowledge, wisdom, and happiness.
“3. The Fellows pledge themselves to endeavour, to the best of their powers, to live a life of temperance, purity, and brotherly love. They believe in a Great First Intelligent Cause, and in the Divine Sonship of the spirit of man, and hence in the immortality of that spirit, and in the universal brotherhood of the human race.
“4. The Society is in connection and sympathy with the Arya Samaj of Aryavart, one object of which Society is to elevate, by a true spiritual education, mankind out of degenerate, idolatrous, and impure forms of worship, wherever prevalent.”
This was a clear, frank, and unobjectionable programme, the reflection of the tone, though not of the actual letter of my New York T.S. circular of the same year. In both, the aspiration for the attainment of spiritual knowledge through the study of natural, especially of occult, phenomena is declared, as well as the brotherhood of mankind. In drafting the New York circular it occurred to me that the membership of, and supervising entities behind, the Society would be naturally grouped in three divisions, viz., new members not detached from worldly interests; pupils, like myself, who had withdrawn from the same or were ready to do so; and the adepts
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themselves, who, without being actually members, were at least connected with us and concerned in our work as a potential agency for the doing of spiritual good to the world. With H. P. B.’s concurrence I defined these three groups, calling them sections, and sub-dividing each into three degrees. This, of course, was in the hope and expectation that we should have more practical guidance in adjusting the several grades of members than we had had—or have since had, I may add. In the New York circular, Clause VI said:
“The objects of the Society are various. It influences its fellows to acquire an intimate knowledge of natural law, especially its occult manifestations.”
Then follow these sentences written by H. P. B.:
“As the highest development, physically and spiritually, on earth of the creative cause, man should aim to solve the mystery of his being. He is the procreator of his species, physically, and having inherited the nature of the unknown but palpable cause of his own creation, must possess in his inner, psychical self, this creative power in lesser degree. He should, therefore, study to develop his latent powers, and inform himself respecting the laws of magnetism, electricity, and all other forms of force, whether of the seen or unseen universes.”
I then proceed as follows:
“The Society teaches and expects its fellows to personally exemplify the highest morality and religious aspirations; to oppose the materialism of science and every form of dogmatic theology. . . ; to make known,
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among Western nations the long-suppressed facts about Oriental religious philosophies, their ethics, chronology, esoterism symbolism. . .; to disseminate a knowledge of the sublime teachings of that pure esoteric system of the archaic period which are mirrored in the oldest Vedas, and in the philosophy of Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster, and Confucius; finally, and chiefly, to aid in the institution of a Brotherhood of Humanity, wherein all good and pure men of every race shall recognise each other as the equal effects (upon this planet) of one Un-Create, Universal, Infinite and Everlasting Cause.”
The parenthesis (upon this planet) was written in by H.P.B.
The step we were taking in resuming the Society’s autonomy upon discovering the sectarian character of the Arya Samaj, thus drew from us the above categorical declaration of principles, in which, the reader will observe, were embraced—
1. The study of occult science;
2. The formation of a nucleus of universal brotherhood; and
3. The revival of Oriental literature and philosophy. In short, all the three Declared Objects upon which the Theosophical Society has been building itself up during the subsequent seventeen years.
If our Bombay friends had previously been under the least misapprehension as regards the aims and principles of our Society, the above circular removed the last excuse for its continuance.
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The preamble to the Arya Samaj circular issued by us in September, 1878,—three months only before our departure for India—called attention to Pandit Shyamji’s translation of the Samaj rules, embodied in the circular, and said: “The observance of these rules is obligatory only upon such fellows as may voluntarily apply for admission to the Arya Samaj; the rest will continue to be, as heretofore, unconnected with the special work of the Samaj.” It went on to say that our Society, with the design of aiding “in the establishment of a Brotherhood of Humanity, had organised sections (meaning groups) in which room is provided for persons born in the most varied religious faiths, requiring only that applicants shall sincerely wish to learn the sublime truths first written by the Aryans in the Vedas and in different epochs promulgated by sages and seers, and to order their lives accordingly. And also, should they so desire, labour to acquire that control over certain forces of nature which a knowledge of her mysteries imparts to its possessor.” The occult training and developments of H. P. B. and her grade of pupils were here hinted at. The phrase shows that the chief original motive of the Founders of the Society was to promote this kind of study; it being their firm conviction that with the development of the psychical powers and spiritual insight all religious knowledge was attainable, and all ignorant religious dogmatism must vanish. The circular adds that “the Society has thus welcomed, and its members dwell in harmony with Buddhists, Lamaists,
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Brahmanis, Parsis, Confucianists, and Jews,” etc., which was strictly true, applicants from all these religious bodies having already been enrolled as fellows. The incongruity of this platform with that of the Arya Samaj is unmistakable and seen at a glance. For Rule 2 in Shyamji’s version reads:
“The four texts of the Vedas shall be received and regarded as containing within themselves all that is necessary to constitute them an extraordinary authority in all matters relating to human conduct.”
Nothing is said here about any other religious scripture being an authority in human conduct, nor any benevolent interest expressed in the religious welfare of non-Vedic peoples; in short, it is a sectarian body, not eclectic. In saying which I pronounce no opinion as to whether the Samaj is a good or a bad sect, a conservative or a progressive one, or whether its establishment by the Swami was a blessing or the reverse to India. I simply mean that it is a sect, and that, our Society not being one and standing upon a quite different platform, could not properly be merged by us into the Samaj, although we could be and wished to be friends.
As further showing the arbitrary authority which the Swami claimed and exercised in prescribing which of the Sâstras were and were not “authoritative”, I quote, from the same Rule 2 of the Arya Samaj, the following:
“The Brâhmanas beginning with the Shatapatka; the six Angas or limbs of the Vedas, beginning with the Shikshâ; the four Upavedas; the six Darshanas or
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Schools of Philosophy; and the 1,127 Lectures on the Vedas, called Shâkhâs, or the branches—these shall be accepted as exponents of the meaning of the Vedas, as well as of the history of the Aryas. So far as these shall concur with the views of the Vedas, they shall be considered as ordinary authority.”
Here is defined a sect, a sect of Hinduism, a sect based on the lines traced by its founder. The Swami, it will be seen, in passing, puts himself in opposition to the whole body of orthodox pandits, since he excludes from his list of inspirational books many that are held by them as sacred.
For instance, Smritis are omitted by the Swami, as not being conclusive authorities. But Manu, Chap. II, 10, holds that “Vedas” are “revelations” and “Smritis” (Dharma Sâstras) are “traditions”; these two are irrefutable in all matters, for by these two virtues arose. It is therefore maintained that Smritis must be respected as “authority”.
Things remained thus until the arrival of the Founders in India and their meeting, soon after, with Swami Dayânand at Saharanpur. The chances for our entanglement in a series of misunderstandings were, of course, greatly enhanced by the necessity for the Swami and ourselves having to talk with each other through interpreters, who, however well up in ordinary English, lacked the fluency which would enable them to render correctly our views upon the abstruse questions of philosophy, metaphysics, and occult science which had to be discussed.
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We certainly were made to understand that Swami Dayânand’s conception of God was that of the Vedântic Parabrahman, hence in accord with our own. Under this mistake—as it afterwards was declared by him to be—I lectured at Meerut to the Arya Samaj in his presence, and declared that now all causes of misunderstanding had been removed and the two societies were really twins. Yet it was not so: they were no more akin than our Society was with the Brahmo Samaj or any Christian or other sect. Disruption was inevitable, and in due time it came. The Swami, losing his temper, tried to repudiate his own words and acts, and finally turned upon us with abuse and denunciations, and put forth a circular to the public and posted handbills in Bombay to call us charlatans and I do not know what else. This forced us in self-defence to state our case and produce our proofs, and this was done in an extra Supplement to the Theosophist, of date July, 1882, in which all the evidence is cited in full and engraved facsimilies are given of an important document bearing the Swami’s signature and the certificate of Mr. Seervai, then our Recording Secretary. Thus, after a disturbed relationship of about three years, the two societies were wrenched apart and each went on its own way.
The inherent disruptive elements were (1) My discovery that the Swami was simply that—i.e., a pandit ascetic—and not an adept at all; (2) The fact that the Samaj was not standing upon the eclectic platform of the Theosophical Society; (3) The Swami’s disappointment at
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our receding from our first consent to accept Harischandra’s bid for the. amalgamation; (4) His vexation—expressed to me in very strong terms—that I should be helping the Ceylon Buddhists and the Bombay Parsis to know and love their religions better than heretofore, while, as he said, both were false religions. I have also doubted whether his and our intermediary correspondent, Hurrychund Chintamon, had ever explained to him just what our views and the real platform of our Society were. The subsequent discovery of the fact that he (Hurrychund) had pocketed the Rs. 600-odd sent him by us for the Arya Samaj, and his restitution of the money at Bombay under H. P. B.’s compulsion, incline me to the opinion that he deceived both the Swami and ourselves in this respect, and that, but for my getting Shyamji’s translation of the Samaj Rules, we should have gone on under the same misapprehension until coming out to India.
It is quite useless and waste of room for me to proceed further in this affair, since those who care for details can find them given at length in the extra Supplement to the Theosophist above mentioned. The Swami was undoubtedly a great man, a learned Sanskrit Pandit, with immense pluck, force of will and self-reliance—a leader of men. When we first met him, in 1879, he had recently recovered from an attack of cholera and his physique was more refined and delicate than usual. I thought him strikingly handsome; tall, dignified in carriage, and gracious in manner towards us, he made a
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very strong impression upon our imaginations. But when I next saw him—at Benares, I believe, some few years later,—he was quite changed, and not for the better. He had grown obese, the fat stood in rolls on his half-nude body, and hung in “double-chin” masses from his under jaw. His breadth detracted from his height, so that he actually seemed to me shorter, and the poetical expression had left his Dantesque face. I have, fortunately, a souvenir of his earlier self in a copy in oils of a photograph, which was given me in Northern India. He is dead and gone now, but his Samaj survives and has spread throughout Northern India to the extent of two or three hundred branches. Annie Besant and I enjoyed a visit to the chief Samaj—at Lahore—during our recent visit to the Punjâb and helped a little, I hope, to mollify the hard feelings which the Samajists have, to my great regret, long held towards us.
The world is wide enough for us all, and it is better that we all should try to live together as brethren.