OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
CEYLON BUDDHISM EXPLAINED
H. P. B.'s RHEUMATIC fever continued several days, causing her agonizing pains: the arm swelled to the shoulder and she tossed about night after night, despite the devoted and unselfish ministrations of her physician, Dr. Avinas Chandra Banerji, of Allahabad, who won all our hearts by his kindness and patience. The first sign of her complete convalescence was her going with me to a big shop and buying a lot of things! At a ceremony of initiation of new candidates, on 24th December, some of her melodious astral bells were rung, to the surprise and delight of the persons present,
During our brief stay with the Sinnetts a number of notable visitors called, and we enjoyed many hours of improving conversation with Prof. Adityaram Bhattacharya, the erudite Sanskritist, and others, upon Indian Philosophy. I lectured two or three times to large audiences, and, H. P. B. having now quite recovered her usual health, we took train for Bombay on 28th December, and, without adventure, reached home on the 30th. The last days of 1880 were thus passed in our new bungalow, "The Crow's Nest," on the rocky slope of the hill of Breach
288 OLD DIARY LEAVES
Candy. It had been selected and taken for us in our absence, and we were charmed with its spacious, high-studded rooms, its large verandahs, and its extensive views of sea and land. Since the beginning of the year 1879, we had been living in the thickly settled Indian quarter of Girgaum Back Road, in a grove of palms where the sea-breezes scarcely penetrated, and the shift to the new locality was delightful. A special advantage was that the number of our casual visitors became so much lessened, by reason of our distance from the centre of population, that we found time for reading, and I find my Diary contains frequent references to this fact. We occupied our new premises until December, 1882, when our Headquarters were permanently established at Adyar. The proper rental of the bungalow was Rs. 200 per mensem, but we got it for Rs. 65 because of its evil reputation for being haunted. The alleged ghosts did not trouble us, however, save in a solitary instance, and that was quickly disposed of. One night I had gone to bed and was dropping asleep, when I felt one corner of my charpai being lifted, as if by someone standing in the thickness of the wall, which it was touching. Instantly recovering my full consciousness, I pronounced a certain Arabic word of power, that H. P. B. had taught me in New York, and the cot was replaced on its legs and the meddlesome spook decamped and never troubled me more.
The new year came in and found me writing at my table, until 2 a.m., editorial articles for the Theosophist. The early weeks of the year were rather uneventful as a whole, although we were brought into
CEYLON BUDDHISM EXPLAINED 289
friendly or unfriendly relations with certain personalities. The writer of that since well-known treatise, The Elixir of Life, a Mr. Mirza Murad Ali Beg, came to us on 20th January, for the first time. He was of European birth, a scion of the old Hampshire family of the Mitfords, which has produced several noted writers, including Mary Russell Mitford, authoress of Our Village and other works. This young man's grandfather had come out to India with some Frenchmen, and served under Tippoo Sultan. When that cruel and sensual chieftain was killed, Mr. Mitford took service with the East India Company. His son was born at Madras, and among other eccentricities turned Mussulman, and, when we met him, was in the military employ of the Maharajah of Bhavnagar as "Chief Cavalry Officer"—practically a sinecure. His had been a wild, adventurous life, more full of misery than the opposite. He bad dabbled in Black Magic, among other things, and told me that all the sufferings he had passed through within the preceding few years were directly traceable to the malign persecutions of certain evil powers which he had summoned to help him get into his power a virtuous lady whom he coveted. He had sat, under the instructions of a Muslim black magician guru, in a closed room, for forty days, with his gaze fixed upon a black spot on the wall, in which he was told to imagine the face of his intended victim, and repeating, some hundred thousand times, a prescribed man tram, in half Arabic, half Sanskrit. He was to continue this until he should actually see the lady's face as if alive; and when her lips moved as if to speak, she would have been
290 OLD DIARY LEAVES
completely fascinated and would come to him of her own accord. All this happened as foretold, his nefarious object was gained, the woman ruined, and he himself fell under the power of the bad spirits whom he had not the moral strength to dominate after having accepted their compulsory service. Certainly he was a distressful person to be with. Nervous, excitable, fixed on nothing, the slave of his caprices, seeing the higher possibilities of man's nature, yet unable to reach them, he came to us as to a refuge, and shortly after took up his residence in our house for a few weeks. A strange-looking creature for an Englishman he was. His dress was that of a Muslim throughout, save that he had his long light-brown hair tied up in a Grecian knot behind his head, like a woman. His complexion was fair and his eyes light blue. In my Diary I say that he looked, more like an actor made up for a part than anything else. The writing of the Elixir of Life occurred some time later, but I may as well tell the story while he is under my mind's eye.
From the time that he came to us he seemed to be engaged in a strong mental and moral conflict within himself. He complained of being dragged hither and thither, first by good, then by bad influences. He had a fine mind, and had done a good deal of reading; he wanted to join our Society, but, as I had no confidence in his moral stamina, I refused him. H. P. B., however, offering to become responsible for him, I relented and let her take him in. He repaid her nicely, some months later, by snatching a sword from a sepoy at Wadhwan station, and trying to kill her, crying out that she and her Mahatmas were all devils!
CEYLON BUDDHISM EXPLAINED 291
In short, he went mad. But to return. While with us he wrote some articles which were printed in the Theosophist, and one evening after a talk with us, sat himself down to write on the power of the will to affect longevity. H. P. B. and I remained in the room, and when he, began his writing she went and stood behind him, just as she had in New York when Harisse was making his sketch of one of the Masters, under her thought-transference. The article of Mirza Saheb attracted deserved attention on its appearance (see Theosophist, III, 140, 168), and has ever since ranked as one of the most suggestive and valuable pamphlets in our Theosophical literature. He was doing well, and there was a good chance for him to retrieve much of his lost spirituality if he would only stop with us; but after giving his promise to do so, he obeyed an irresistible impulse and rushed back to Wadhwan and to destruction. His mind did not recover its equilibrium; he turned Roman Catholic, then recanted back into Islam, and finally died, and was buried at Junagadh, where I have seen his humble tomb. His case has always seemed to me a dreadful instance of the danger one runs in dabbling with occult science while the animal passions are rampant.
I shall run rapidly over the events of 1881, and note only two or three that had intrinsic importance. The case of Damodar was one of them. When this dear young man joined the Society and put his heart into the work, he got from his father permission to live with us, irrespective of caste restrictions and as though he had taken the vows of the Sannyasi. The father and an uncle were also active members at that
292 OLD DIARY LEAVES
time. According to the custom of Guzerati Brahmins, Damodar had been betrothed in childhood, of course without his consent, and the time arrived when he would have to take up the married life. But his sole ambition in life was now to lead the existence of the spiritual recluse, and he viewed marriage with the greatest repugnance. He felt himself the victim of custom, and was passionately eager to be freed from the abhorrent contract, so that he might become a true chela of Mahatma K. H., whom he had seen in his youth, and again after coming to us. His father, a wise and high-minded man, at last consented, and Damodar assigned over to him his share of the ancestral estate, amounting, if I rightly recollect, to some Rs. 50,000, on condition that his child-wife should be taken to his father's house and comfortably maintained. This arrangement went on all right for a time, but when Damodar had become completely identified with us, and had even gone so far as to become a Buddhist with us in Ceylon, the family revolted and began a persecution to compel the poor boy to come back into caste. This he would not do, and the result was the withdrawal of his relatives from the Society, and their waging a not very reputable war against us, innocent objects of their anger, in the shape of scurrilous fly-sheets and other attacks on our reputations, which were printed and circulated by somebody or other at Bombay. One particularly slanderous one, I remember, was criculated to my audience on the occasion of a lecture at Framji Cowasji Ball. A copy was handed me as I was entering. Reaching the platform I read it, and,
CEYLON BUDDHISM EXPLAINED 293
showing it to the audience, laid it on the floor and put my foot on it, with the remark that that was my answer to our unprincipled calumniator, whoever he might be. The burst of applause that followed showed that no more need be said, and I proceeded with my discourse.
Damodar remained with us in the most intimate friendship, working with ceaseless devotion and absolute unselfishness until 1885, when he went from Madras to Tibet via Darjiling, and is still there, in training for his future work for mankind. False rumors of his death in the Himâlayan snows have been circulated from time to time, but I have excellent reason for believing that he is alive and well and in due time will return. I shall recur to this later on. His bereaved father died soon after the unpleasant breach between them, carrying with him all our respect and best wishes.
It had been arranged that I should return alone to Ceylon and begin the collection of a National Education Fund to promote the education of Buddhist boys and girls. The scheme had—as H. P. B. assured me—the full approbation of the Mahatmas, and her own concurrence had been strongly expressed. Thereupon I had written to Ceylon and made all necessary arrangements with our friends. But, on 11th February, as it seems, H. P. B. fell out with me because I would not cancel the engagement and stop and help her on the Theosophist. Of course, I flatly refused to do anything of the kind, and as the natural consequence she fell into a white rage with me. She shut herself up in her room a whole
294 OLD DIARY LEAVES
week, refusing to see me, but sending me formal notes of one sort or another, among them one in which she notified me that the Lodge would have nothing more to do with the Society or myself, and I might go to Timbuctoo if I liked. I simply said that my tour having been fully approved of by the Lodge, I should carry it through, even though I never saw the face of a Master again; that I did not believe them to be such vacillating and whimsical creatures; if they were, I preferred to work on without them. Her ill-temper burnt itself out at last, and on the 18th of that month she and I drove out in the new carriage which Damodar had presented to her! A Master visited her on the 19th and exposed to her the whole situation, about which I shall not go into details, as all has turned out as he forewarned us. On leaving, he left behind a much-worn gold-embroidered head-covering, of peculiar shape, which I took possession of, and have until this day. One result of this visit was that, on the 25th of the month, she and I had a long and serious discussion about the state of affairs, resulting—as my Diary says— “in an agreement between us to re-construct the T.S. on a different basis, putting the Brotherhood idea forward more prominently, and keeping the occultism more in the background, in short, to have a secret section for it.” This, then, was the seed-planting of the E. S. T., and the beginning of the adoption of the Universal Brotherhood idea in more definite form than previously. The wording of the paragraphs was entirely my own, and is quite open to alterations.
CEYLON BUDDHISM EXPLAINED 295
I have recorded in the entry for one of those days, an admirable description of the potential re-appearance of latent images of past things, which I found on reading that wonderful book The Dabistan. Says" Abu Ali, the prince of physicians (whose spirit may God sanctify),
“Every form and image which seems at present effaced,
Is securely stored up in the treasury of time—
When the same position of the heavens again recurs,
The Almighty reproduces each from behind the mysterious
These latent images are those which Buchanan's psychometers can see and describe on being put into connection with the foci of Âkasha wherein they are lying latent.
I sailed for Ceylon on 23rd April, in company with a Mr. Æneas Bruce, of Scotland, a veteran traveller and most amiable gentleman, who had joined our Society. We reached Point de Galle on the fourth day and were received with much enthusiasm. Our leading colleagues came aboard with greetings and garlands and escorted us to the shore, where over 300 Buddhist boys of our first-established school were standing in line to welcome us. White cloths were laid from the landing for us to walk upon, and there was a brave show of greenery and flags, with no end of cheers and joyful acclamations. A great multitude of people were there to follow our carriages to the schoolhouse, an upper-storied building on the Harbor beach, where rooms had been fitted up for our accommodation. As usual a number of yellow-robed monks, headed by the venerable Bulâtgama Sri Sumanatissa, Chief Priest of the principal temple of Galle, were
296 OLD DIARY LEAVES
there to welcome us with their chantings of Pâli gâthas, or verses.
The main object of my present visit was, as above stated, the raising of an Education Fund and the rousing of popular interest in the subject of education generally. To effect this I needed the co-operation of all the principal priests of the Island; if I could get about eight or nine men on my side, the rest would be a mere matter of detail. These men were H. Sumangala, Dhammalankâra, Wimalesâra, Piyarâtna, Subhuti, Potuwila and Wçligama. Then there was Megittuwatte, the "silver-tongued orator," incomparably the finest speaker in the Island, to be dealt with, but not like the others. He had been for very many years a Thera, or ordained monk, but for certain irregularities of conduct had been reduced to the lower rank of samanera. This group of intellectual men swayed all the power in the two "sects" recognized among them, the Siam and the Amarapoora. As I have elsewhere explained, there is no difference whatever, of dogma, between these two Sinhalese Buddhist "sects"; only that of the sources of their respective ordinations. The Siam priests had got ordination from that country at a past epoch, when civil war had well nigh uprooted the religion of the Buddha in the spicy Island. Hindu Tamil invaders had overturned the indigenous Buddhist sovereign, destroyed their finest temples, and burnt their religious books, by stacks "as high as the tops of the cocoanut trees." In this crisis, upon the expulsion of the foreign dynasty and the re-establishment of the proper sovereign, his eyes were turned to Siam, and
CEYLON BUDDHISM EXPLAINED 297
an embassy was sent to that Court to ask that holy monks might be lent to re-ordain the remaining Sinhalese monks. This request being complied with, the result was the establishment of the new Siam sect under Royal patronage. Much later, when postulants of lower castes were denied ordination by the aristocratic Brotherhood, of the Willalla caste mainly, they sent delegates to the king of Burma, whose capital was then at Amarapoora, to seek for ordination. Succeeding in their object they returned, fully ordained bhikshus, to Ceylon, and the new "Amarapoora" sect sprang into existence. As usual among theologians, there was no fellowship between the two bodies; they never worked in concert, whether sitting in Council, exchanging religious services, or jointly appealing to the people. All this was too absurd to me for tolerance, and as I found myself on equally good terms with both sets of leaders, I determined, if possible, to bring about cordial co-operation for the good of the religion as a whole. There was then just arising a third sect, a schism, in the body of the Amarapoora sect, headed by a monk of great force of character, fine education and quenchless energy. His name was Ambâhagawatte, and he called his sect the Ramanya Nîkâya (I spell it as pronounced). His rallying cry was, of course, Reform: the priesthood had become lazy, unobservent of their duties, the religious education of the people was being neglected; there must be a change. He set the example of austerity of life, observing strictly the rules of Vinâya, and requiring the same of those who chose to follow him. From the start he made an impression, his sect
298 OLD DIARY LEAVES
gradually grew strong, and, although he has been dead several years, it has prospered and now embraces a large body of zealous and able monks, and devoted laity. I had to bring these various threads of power into one strong tie of union, and set myself to accomplish the purpose. Beginning with personal interviews with the leaders, and getting their individual promises of help, I took the lecturing field, moving from village to village in the Western Province, of which Colombo is the chief' town and centre of influence. First, Mr. Bruce and I wrote a couple of popular tracts for campaign purposes, which, after being submitted to the priests in Sinhalese translations, were printed and put in circulation. The Missionary party were not idle, you may be sure. Private slander, open abuse, absurd attacks on Buddhism, and the copying of foreign scurrilous articles against the Society and its Founders, were the order of the day. The poor schemers had not the wisdom to see that, since the Buddhists had accepted us as their champions and co-religionists, the more we were abused and denounced, the stronger grew the popular love for us: we and they being fellow-sufferers in a common cause.
Finding out the shocking ignorance of the Sinhalese about Buddhism, I began, after vainly trying to get some monk to do it, the compilation of a Buddhist Catechism on the lines of the similar elementary hand-books so effectively used among Western Christian sects, Working at it at odd times, as I could find leisure. To fit myself for it I had read 10,000
CEYLON BUDDHISM EXPLAINED 299
pages of Buddhist books, of course in English and French translations. I finished my first draft on 5th May, and on the 7th took it with me to Colombo. That evening the High Priest, Sumangala, and Megittuwatte, came to discuss my scheme of the Education Fund. After several hours' interchange of views, we agreed upon the following points, viz., that it should be a Fund for the propagation of Buddhism, that there should be Trustees, that we should sell subscription tickets or Merit Cards of various denominations, that the money should be deposited in the Post Office Savings Bank, and that Megittuwatte should go on a tour with me. I got Sumangala to consent to issue an appeal to the Buddhist public for the Fund, and to endorse me as its collector. From the Government blue books we discovered that eight out of eleven of the schools in the Island were in the hands of the Missionaries, the rest belonging to Government: in the former, the children were taught that Buddhism was a dark superstition, in the other no religious teaching at all was given. So, between them both, our Buddhist children had but small chance of coming to know anything at all of the real merits of their ancestral faith. Our work was clearly cut out for us, and at it we went cor amore. My first begging lecture was at Kelanie, on the Buddha's Birthday, and resulted in the paltry sale of Rs. 60 worth of tickets, and one subscription of Rs. 100 towards the Fund.
My Catechism had been translated into Sinhalese, and on 15th May I went with it to Widyodaya College
300 OLD DIARY LEAVES
to go over the text, word by word, with the High his Assistant Principal, Hiyayentadûwe, one of his cleverest pupils and a man of learning. On the first day, although we worked eight hours, we disposed of only 61/2 pages of the MS. On the 16th, beginning early in the morning and continuing until 5 p.m., we got over 8 pages; then we stuck. The impasse was created by the definition of Nirvana, or rather of the survival of some sort of “subjective entity” in that state of existence. Knowing perfectly well the strong views entertained by the school Southern Buddhists of which Sumangala is the type, I had drafted the reply to the question: “What is Nirvana” in such a way as to just note that there was a difference of opinion among Buddhist meta-physicians as to the survival of an abstract human entity, without leaning either towards the views of the Northern or Southern school. But the two erudite critics caught me up at the first glance at the paragraph, and the High Priest denied that there was any such difference of opinion among Buddhist metapahysicians. Upon my citing to him the beliefs of the Tibetans, Chinese, Japanese, Mongolians, and even of a Sinhalese school of which the late Polgâha-watte was leader, he closed our discussion by saying that, if I did not alter the text, he should cancel his promise to give me a certificate that the Catechism suited to the teaching of children in Buddhist schools, and should publish his reasons therefor. As this would virtually destroy the usefulness of my educational monograph, and cause such a breach between him and myself as to make it tenfold more difficult to
CEYLON BUDDHISM EXPLAINED 301
push on the schools project, I yielded to force majeure, and made the paragraph read, as it has ever since stood, in the many editions through which the Catechism has since passed. The tedious labor of critical revision was finally completed, the MS. Fair-copied, re-revised, trimmed, added to, and at last made ready for the printer, all this taking weeks and causing no end of bother to me. It was such a novelty, this, to condense the essence of the whole body of Buddhist Dhamma into a little hand-bock that one might read through in a couple of hours, and their inherited tendency towards passive resistance to all innovations upon the fixed order of things was so strong that I had to fight my way inch by inch, as one might say. It was not that the priests did not feel the greatest friendliness for me and the highest appreciation of the possible good that might accrue to the nation from our school project, but the conservative instinct was too strong to be pacified at once, and points that had been passed upon had to be reconsidered, and long discussions entered into as to the spirit of the Buddhist sacred books, before I could be allowed to go to Press with my work. I am perfectly convinced that if I had been an Asiatic of any race or caste, the book would never have appeared, the author would have simply been tired out and have abandoned his attempt. But, knowing something of the bull-dog pertinacity of the Anglo-Saxon character, and holding me in real personal affection, they finally succumbed to my importunity. The Sinhalese and English versions appeared simultaneously, on 24th July, 1881, and thenceforward, for some weeks, the
302 OLD DIARY LEAVES
hand-presses of Colombo could not strike off copies fast enough to meet the demand. Sumangala ordered 100 copies for the use of the priest-pupils in his College; it became a textbook in the schools; found its way into every Sinhalese family; and within one month of its publication was admitted in Court, in a case that was being tried in the Southern Province, as an authority upon the question at issue. This, of course, thanks to Sumangala's Certificate of Orthodoxy, appended to the text of the work. This, we may say, was substantially the beginning of our campaign for Buddhism against its foes, Missionary and other, and the advantage has never been lost. For whereas previously the entire nation were virtually ignorant of the basic principles of their religion, of even one of its excellent features, now every child, one may say, is as well informed, and as ready to recognize false representations about the national faith, as the average Sunday-school child in the West about the principles of Christianity. It is a duty and a pleasure to re-state here that the money for printing the two versions of the Catechism was given me by that saintly woman and sweet friend, Mrs. Ilangakoon, of Mâtara, since, alas! deceased. Thanks to the careful scrutiny given it by the two learned monks of Widyodâya College, it has found such wide favor throughout the world that up to the present time it has been translated and published in twenty different languages. I have found it in Burma, Japan, Germany, Sweden, France, Italy, Australia, America, Sandwich Islands, throughout India, and elsewhere: from the grain of mustard-seed has developed the great tree. The only disagreeable
CEYLON BUDDHISM EXPLAINED 303
incident in its history is, that a person calling himself "Subhadra Bhikshu" plagiarized almost its entire contents and appropriated to himself its title, in a German Catechism that he brought out, and that has since been published in English.