OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
VISITS TO ALLAHABAD AND BENARES
THE first cloud—not counting the Hurrychund incident—rose on our Indian horizon at about this time; the cause which was to ultimately break up our quartette of exiles, began to shape itself towards the latter end of November. It was a queer and unnatural alliance at best, a fad of H. P. B.'s which was foredoomed to breed trouble. She and I—as I have said before—were absolutely of one mind as to the Masters, our connection with them, and our readiness for service. Whatever friction there was between us, by reason of our different personalities and ways of looking at things, we were entirely harmonious as regards the excellence of our cause and the necessity for the strict performance of duty. It was quite different with our colleagues, Mr. Wimbridge and Miss Bates, who were insular English at the core and Asiatic only in a thin superficial varnish that had been laid over them by the brush of H. P. B.'s fascinating enthusiasm. He was a designer and architect, she a school-teacher or governess, of about thirty-five years of age. Both had lived some years in America, and had been introduced to H. P. B. by mutual acquaintances. Fortune was smiling on neither of them then, and both fell in with H. P. B.'s
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project that they should come with us to India and practise their respective professions, with such help as we could get them through our influence with respectable Hindus. I had nothing against Wimbridge, but felt an instinctive foreboding as to the lady. I begged H. P. B. not to bring her with us. Her invariable answer was that the two, being patriotic English in feeling, would afford by their company the best possible guarantee to the Anglo Indian authorities of our innocence of any political designs. And said she would take upon herself all the consequences, for she knew naught but good would come out of the connection. In this, as in an hundred other instances, I yielded to her presumably superior occult foresight; and we four sailed and, at Bombay settled together. Worse luck for us! She began by fomenting a misunderstanding between H. P. B. and a nice young lady Theosophist of New York; which drew Wimbridge in after a while, and broke up the harmony of our household. I had nothing whatever to do with the quarrel, but ultimately had to assume the disagreeable task of forcing Miss Bates out of the Society. This was always my lot; H. P. B. made the rows and I had to take the kicks and clear out the intruders! This fact is known to all our acquaintance. My colleague was always talking about her "occult nose," yet it very seldom helped her to smell a traitor or a predestined enemy who came under the guise of seeming friendliness. Without going farther, the cases of Madame Coulomb and Solovioff, the self-accused cruel traitor and spy, are quite enough to prove the fact.
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On 23rd November, a Meeting was convened at our Hall to organize the Aryan Temperance Society. I thought it a shame that the leading Hindus and Parsis should rest passive and indifferent to the shocking spread of intemperance throughout India, and suffer the Missionaries to carry out alone a counter-movement. The late Rao Bahadur Gopal Rao Hari Deshmuk, a very influential Maratha Brahmin gentleman, took the chair at our meeting, the Society was agreed upon, and we secured seventy-seven signatures to the programme of organization. We then adjourned, to meet at the call of the Chair. One more meeting was held, and we got forty more signatures, but the movement proved abortive, for nobody save myself seemed much interested in it, and I was too busy with my official duties to devote to it the time it required.
On 29th November, an event of much importance occurred: we celebrated with great eclat the fourth anniversary of the formation of the Theosophical Society. It was also our first public function of the kind, the only previous notice taken of the anniversary, that of the first completed year, having been confined to a private meeting of members at Mott Memorial Hall, New York, and an address by myself. The shifting of our Headquarters to India and our enormously increased publicity seemed to demand a change of policy and a fresh start in this respect.
Mr. Wimbridge designed and lithographed an artistic invitation card, inviting our friends to "attend at the Headquarters, 108 Girgaum Back Road, Bombay,
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at 8.30 p.m., on the 29th November, 1879, a meeting commemorative of the Society's Fourth Anniversary, the founding of the Theosophist, and the opening of the Library. There will be addresses and a display of machinery made by native artisans." Signed by myself, as President, and H. P. Blavatsky, as Corresponding Secretary. The grounds and the lane leading to them from the public road were brilliantly illuminated; arches of flame and pyramids of Indian colored lamps were placed at the mouth of the lane and the entrance to the compound; Chinese lanterns were hung on wires stretched between the palm-trees; an arch of gas-jets, spelling the word" Welcome," lighted up the Library facade; the whole ground was spread with striped Indian carpets; 400 chairs were placed for guests; a band of twenty musicians played Indian and foreign airs—among the latter, the American National hymn—and the scene was altogether beautiful. Far above the palms, the azure, tropical, star-studded sky looked down on us. Inside the Library building, tables and walls were covered with exhibits of indigenous work in brass, ivory, sandalwood, steel; the marble mosaics of Agra, the lovely shawls and soft woollen stuffs of Kashmir, hand-woven muslins from Dacca and elsewhere, cutlery from Pandharpur, and work from the Baroda School of Arts. The Dewan of Cutch, the enlightened Mr. Manibhai Jasbhai, sent a complete collection of arms and some of the famous silver work of that State. About 500 invited guests—the best known and most respectable in Bombay—were present. Addresses were made by Messrs. Gopal
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Rao Hari Deshmuk (as Chairman); Naoroji Furdonji, a beloved Parsi statesman; Kashinath Trimbak Telang, subsequently a Justice of the Bombay High Court; Shantaram Narayan, a most respected Maharta lawyer; Nurshunkar Lalshunkar, the "Guzerati Poet," and myself. Altogether, it was a most appropriate and encouraging help to our Indian career. The Europeans present expressed themselves charmed with the industrial display, and gave deserved praise to Vishram Jehta's mechanical exhibits.
Two days later H. P. B., a European gentleman friend, and I dined, by invitation, in the Hindu fashion, .at the house of Gopalrao Vinayak Joshi, F.T.S., the husband of poor Anandabai, who went to America for her medical degree, took it with honors, and died soon after her return to India; leaving her self-sacrificing husband with a blasted life and a broken heart. The incidents of the dinner—at which several Brahmins ate, seated in a line opposite us—have been comically described by H. P. B. with her usual exaggeration, so I need not repeat them. A circumstance that, provoked much laughter was my borrowing H. P. B.'s long gold chain and wearing it in the fashion of the Brahmin's thread, to complete my resemblance to them; my clothing, like theirs, consisting merely of the dhoti from the waist downward, the torso being left bare. Our European friend was similarly attired, but H. P. B. respectfully declined our mock invitation to do likewise!
On 2nd December, she and I, with Damodar and Babula, left by train for Allahabad to visit the Sinnetts whose personal acquaintance we had not yet made.
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The second subsequent morning, early we reached. Allahabad and were met by Mr. Sinnett at the station with his barouche and pair, coachman and two foot-men (syces) in handsome liveries. Mrs. Sinnett's reception of us at the house was most charming, and before she had spoken a dozen sentences we knew that we had won a friend beyond price: A Judge of the High Court and the Director of Public Instruction were among the callers that day, Mr. A. O. Hume and Mrs. Hume called the next morning, dear Mrs. Gordon made her appearance on the 7th, having travelled a long distance to see H. P. B., and little by little we got to know most of the Anglo-Indians of the Station who were worth knowing by reason of their intelligence and breadth of mind. Some of them were very prepossessing, but to none were we so attracted as to the Sinnetts and Mrs. Gordon, then in the prime of her beauty and sparkling with intelligence. I thought it was worth the voyage to India just to get to know those three. And think so still.
It is strict etiquette in Anglo-India for the new-comer to call on the residents, but as H. P. B. would call on nobody, those who cared to know her had to ignore custom and visit her as often as they liked.
Our time was pretty well filled with visitors and dinner-parties, the mention of which latter recalls an. interesting fact to my mind. The Sinnetts, H. P. B., and I were driving out to dinner one evening, and had to pass through a part of the town which we had not seen before. At a point where two roads intersected, H. P. B. suddenly shuddered and said:
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"Dear me, what a horrible feeling I have! It seems as if some awful crime had been committed here and human blood spilt." Sinnett said: "Do you not know where we are?" "Haven't the slightest idea," answered she. "How could I, when this is the first time I have been out of your house?" Sinnett then pointed to a large building to our right, and told her that that was the very Mess-house in which the Officers of such-and-such a regiment had been murdered at dinner by their sepoys, during the Mutiny. This served as the text for a most instructive little discourse by H. P. B. on the permanency of registers of human deeds in the Astral Light. The Sinnetts, the High Court Judge, and his family and other guests, to whom the Sinnetts told the story immediately on our arrival at the house, are living in London and can corroborate my narrative. And, in fact, this will be an appropriate place for me to say that, barring the comparatively few instances where H. P. B. and I were alone and which I have noted as I went along, her phenomena happened in the presence of many witnesses, most of whom, I presume, are still alive, and have the full opportunity to correct any misstatements or exaggerations into which, after this long lapse of years, I may unwittingly have fallen. At the same time, it is satisfactory to know that, although my "Old Diary Leaves" have been appearing in the Theosophist since March, 1892, and have found readers and provoked correspondence and editorial comment all over the world, not a single denial of my facts has been made, and but one modification suggested, that by Mr. Massey a
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to some particulars of the butterfly-elemental story, in one of my earliest chapters. The conviction of my gullibility has undeniably become fixed in many minds by my narratives, but these criticules, being ignorant of the facts, and possibly in most cases of all psychical science as well, their opinion is not worth much. "Truth is stranger than fiction" always, and when every possible discredit has been cast on H. P. B., the residuum to her credit is overpoweringly great.
Forty-six years of modern mediumistic phenomena have not yet taught Western scientists the principles of the law of spirit intercourse, nor those of psycho-physiological abnormalism. The self-complacent way in which they discuss H. P. B.'s gifts from the point of view of her personal moral nature is a saddening proof of their ignorance of the lessons taught by Charcot and Liébault. Their time would not be wasted if they should spend some months also in the real study of Eastern literature. As a sample of the prejudiced disbelief of Western scientists, I give the following: We had to dine with us one evening a Professor of Physical Science in the local University, a man of wide renown and a charming companion. He discussed with H. P. B. her theory of the "raps" and finally asked her to produce some. She did so in various parts of the room, on the floor, the walls, the glasses of the hanging pictures, on a newspaper held out to her by Mr. Sinnett or the Professor—I forget which—and on the Professor's hand; she, sometimes not even touching the surface to be rapped upon, but, as it were, throwing a current of psychic
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force against it from a distance. Sinnett then placed a large glass clock-shade on the rug before the fire and she rapped on that. Finally, to give the best possible proof that his theory (or rather, Faraday's Tyndall's, and Carpenter's) that the raps were mechanical vibrations made by the intended, or unintentional, pushing of the medium's finger on the spot, I suggested a test which was accepted. I got H.P.B. to place her finger-tips against one of the glasses in a door that gave upon the verandah, took the lamp out-side with the Professor, and held it so that the flesh of her fingers was highly illuminated, and she then caused as many raps as he successively called for. The fingers did not change place a hair's breadth nor her muscles contract, but we could see the nerves quivering before each rap, as though some fine current of nerve-force were thrilling through them. The Professor had nothing to say, save that it was all very strange. It seemed to us, her friends, as if a more conclusive proof of her good faith could not have been demanded. But the Professor subsequently declared her a trickster. Poor thing! that was all she got for trying to :give a scientific man the facts on which to begin the serious study of psychology. I think the bitter experience so disgusted her as to make her even less willing than previously to take the least trouble to convince that class of observers.
On the following day I lectured to a very crowded audience on "Theosophy and Its Relations to India". The chair was occupied by Mr. A. O. Hume, since known as the "Father of the Congress," who made an eloquent and altogether excellent address; far better
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than my own, for H.P.B. was in a bad temper that day and nagged me, even up to the moment when we mounted the platform, to that degree that my brain was all confused. Sinnett tells in his Incidents, etc., how she raged in the carriage on the way home. He writes:
"No sooner were we clear of the Hall compound on our drive back than she opened fire on him with exceeding bitterness. To hear her talk on this subject at intervals during the evening, one might have thought the aspirations of her life compromised . . . . Colonel Olcott bore all these tantrums with wonderful fortitude."
Of course: I loved her lovable qualities and out of gratitude for showing me the Path, and bore her savage temper because the good she was doing outweighed all sense of personal suffering.
But there was a decided "method in her madness"—I noticed throughout our relationship: she abused only her staunchest friends, those whom she felt were so attached to her and devoted to the Society as to be ready to put up with everything from her; to others like Wimbridge and some others I might name, whom she knew would not bear with such treatment, she never raised her voice, nor cast an epithet at them. She seemed to fear losing them.
On 15th December, we left with the Sinnetts and Mrs. Gordon for Benares, reaching there at 4 p.m. in due course. At the station we were met by Damodar and Babula, and the Munshi of the Maharajah of Vizianagaram, who invited us on behalf of his master to occupy one of his residences and be his
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guest. Accepting, we drove to the Ananda Bagh, a small palace standing in a high-walled garden planted with flowers and trees, in geometrical beds, and found ourselves pleasantly lodged. Swami Dayânand Saraswati was awaiting us with warm greeting, and we found that he had kindly seen that every provision had been made for our comfort. He was looking very thin and emaciated after an attack of cholera, but this had notably refined and spiritualized his face. He was lodged in a small apartment near the gate. The main building comprised a number of small rooms around a large central hall, which had a high ceiling and attic windows giving on the flat, terraced roof. Heavy curtains hung between light masonry pillars between arches at the front side, and passing these one emerged on a platform and a broad flight of steps, all in masonry. Some sofas, a writing table, and a dozen chairs comprised the furniture of the hall. As evening fell the air was sweet with the perfume of roses, borne in from the garden, and the moon shone in lovely radiance on a grassy-banked tank, with two flights of steps descending to the water at opposite sides. His Highness agent, the learned Dr. Lazarus, had furnished the house for us, supplied servants, and put two carriages at our disposal.
A hot discussion sprang up in the evening between Mr. Sinnett and H. P. B. on the subject of phenomena, he insisting, with apparent reason, that if she could afford to expend only a given amount of psychic force she ought to use it exclusively for doing phenomena for men of science, under convincing test conditions; she angrily refusing. Although I took sides with
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Sinnett, she would not yield the point, but consigned the whole Royal Society to perdition, declaring that her experience at Allahabad had been quite enough. They parted under constraint and Sinnett declared he should return home the next day. Morning brought peace, however, and we drove to see the Maharajah's principal palace and the Durga Mandir, or celebrated Monkey Temple, where innumerable mischievous simians were fed and petted. That evening, as we and two visitors were sitting in the high-roofed hall, two roses phenomenally dropped in our midst and all were happy again. After an early Chota hazri (tea and toast) the next morning we all drove to the retreat of Majji,1 a very well-known female ascetic, learned in Vedânta, who occupied a guhâ (excavated cave) with buildings above ground, on the bank of the Ganges, a mile or two below the city of Benares. She inherited this âshrama from her father, together with a house in town and an extensive and valuable Sanskrit library. It is a delightful spot in the fresh early morning, an ideal place for calm meditation and study. Situated on the edge of a bank forty or fifty feet above the river, and sheltered by some large trees, we found it charming to sit on the platform and engage in discourse with this remarkable woman: one out of many Indian experiences for which life in Western countries could never prepare one. At that time Majji appeared about forty years of age, fair-skinned, with a calm dignity and grace of gesture that commanded respect. Her voice was tender in tone, face and body plump, eyes full of
1 since deceased.
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intelligence and fire. She refused to show us phenomena (always it will be recollected, our first request on such occasions), which H. P. B. and I would have been glad to see on account of the previous evening's friction, but her reasons for declining were admitted by all to be sufficient, and the visit was serviceable in its effect on our good friends. I do not know whether she could have produced them or not, but being a true Vedântin, she spoke very strongly as to the folly of people's hankering after such comparatively childish distractions, instead of enjoying the calm delight of reposing the mind with the realization of the ideals which Shankârachârya's incomparable philosophy depicts. Go where one will throughout India, it will ever be the same experience, the most honored ascetics are those who decline to exhibit such powers as they may possess save under very exceptional circumstances. The wonder-workers are regarded as of a much lower degree, principally as black magicians, and as such appeal to the lower classes for patronage and notoriety.
The Sinnetts left for home at 2 p.m. That evening I initiated Mrs. Gordon into the Society with our simple ritual, in Swami Dayânand's presence, and he gave her instructions for developing the yogic powers.
The next morning Mrs. Gordon and I, accompanied by the Swami, drove to the Maharajah of Vizianagaram's Girls' School, and were shown about by Dr. Lazarus. We found a large number of bright, intelligent. Hindu girls receiving instruction, and their examination by the Swami was very interesting. We
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particularly admired their Devanâgari writing, which is done on board slates with a pointed bit of wood dipped in a creamy solution of chalk.
In the evening the Swami, Damodar, and I went over the ritual together and made sundry improvements; but in practice I doubt if I have ever employed the same formula twice in the hundreds of cases of admissions into the Society that I have made. The ritual is, in point of fact, little else than a serious explanation to the candidate of the nature of the Society, its principles and aims, its duties to the members, and theirs to it and to each other. It has always seemed to me that the putting of a man's foot into the unworldly path of the search after the nobler self and worthier ideals of life is the most important step that one could take, and the occasion has always impressed me with its solemnity. I have admitted members in almost all parts of the world, and have never failed to make a very clear and frank explanation of the nature of the undertaking upon which they were entering.
Two Muslim jugglers, infinitely inferior to the miracle-working (and never-existing) Govindaswamy described by Jacolliot, were brought to show us their skill. Along with the commonplace tricks we all have seen many times, they did some that were novel and striking. Among these were the stopping by command of wooden balls moving on a tightly-stretched perpendicular string, and the causing of them to ascend or descend without visible cause; the throwing of sand into a basin of water, pouring off the water and reproducing the sand perfectly dry;
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and the resuscitation of a cobra after it had been fearfully mangled and apparently killed by a mongoose, by touching it with a bit of dried root.
The same afternoon I lectured at the town hall to a crowded audience, Babu Prâmada Dâsa Mittra, one of the most respected and highly-educated Vedântin gentlemen of Benares, occupying the chair and benefiting the assemblage by a luminous discourse at the close of my remarks. My topic was the material and spiritual needs of India, and I illustrated the former by exhibiting a collection of the engraved brassware for which the Holy City is renowned, and pointing out the slovenly workmanship as evidence of the industrial decadence that has set in, and that the dearest interest of the country require to be stopped. In fact, scarcely one of the pretty vases or covered jars would stand square on the polished table before me, the covers of the jars were badly fitted, the feet were badly soldered on, and the two handles of a vase were rivetted at unequal heights. Since then the establishment by Government of Schools of Art has done something to better the condition of things, but there is such a rage for cheap things and so little willingness to pay for the finish which we in the West consider indispensable, that there is immense room for improvement. My kind interpreter on this occasion was Munshi Bhaktâwar Singh, of Shajahanpur. A return visit paid by Majji to H. P. B. the next morning caused surprise, as, we were told, it was a most unusual thing for her to call upon anybody save her Guru, and upon a European never. I was under a sort of
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glamor about this woman from the tales that had been told me respecting her, and, in fact, I have visited her every time I have been in Benares; the latest, with Mrs. Besant and the Countess Wachtmeister. I believe I have been the means of getting her some staunch supporters, who have done innumerable acts of kindness and reverence to her, among them, the late beloved Nobin K. Bannerji, of Berhampur, and his associates in our splendid local Branch at that place. I held to my first belief that she was an adept for many years. At that time of her call she was, remember, a complete stranger to us, and, so far as we knew, nobody had explained to her what we were save we ourselves when we called at her âshrama. Yet she freely told Mrs. Gordon, Damodar, and myself, in H. P. B.'s absence, a marvellous tale about her. She said that H. P. B.'s body was occupied by a Yogi, who was working in so far as he could for the spread of Eastern philosophy. It was the third body he had so used, and his total age in the three bodies was about 150 years. She made the mistake of saying that he had been inside H. P. B.'s body sixty-two years, her age being then only forty-eight in all: a bad shot certainly. Speaking always as a Vedântin, she would allude to herself as "this body"; laying a hand on her knee or on the other arm, she would say "this body's" family, studies, residence, pilgrimages, or what not. I finally asked her why she spoke so and who she was. She said that the body we saw was entered at its seventh year by a Sannyâsi and had been occupied by him ever since; he had not completed his study of Yoga and so became reborn. The
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“she” therefore was, in reality, a "he" overlaid with a female body, a parallel case to H. P. B.'s. What is certain is, that the occupant of her body had a most recalcitrant one to manage.
The same evening I lectured at the Bengali School House to another overflowing audience, and the experiences of the following day were so interesting that they must be accorded a chapter to themselves.