Theosophical Society in the Philippines                 Online Books

                                   Home      Online Books     Previous Page      Next Page

OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott



IF anyone fancies that the influence which our Society enjoys in the East has been gained without hard work he should look through the pages of this Diary. Day after day, week after week, and month after month are to be seen the records of journeys taken in all sorts of conveyances, from the railway carriage to the ramshackle little hackney, jutka and ekka, drawn by a single pony or bullock; to the common country cart, with its huge wheels, its bottom of bamboo poles, sometimes but thinly covered with straw, and its pair of high-humped Indian oxen straining at their yoke—a thick pole laid across their tired necks and tied to them by coir ropes; to roughly built boats covered with arches of dried palm-leaves, but with neither bench nor cushion; to elephants carrying us in their howdahs, or, more frequently, on great pads, which are simply mattresses belted around them by giant girths. Journeyings by clear days are recorded here, and days of pouring tropical rains; nights of moonlight, of starlight, and heavy showers; nights, sometimes, when sleep is broken by the ear-splitting sounds of the jungle insect world, the horrid yelp of the jackal pack, the distant noise of wild elephants pushing through the cane groves,


the ceaseless shouts of the driver to his lagging bullocks, and his country songs, mostly in falsetto and usually discordant, to keep himself awake. Then the mosquitoes swarming about you in the cart, with their exasperating drone, menacing slow torture and white lumps swelling on the skin. Then the arrivals at villages in the dawn; the people all clustered along the road to meet you; the curiosity that must be gratified; the bath under difficulties; the early breakfast of coffee and âppas—a thickish sort of rice cakes—with fruit; the visit to the monastery; the discussions of plans and prospects with the Buddhist monks; the lecture in the open air, or, if there be one, the preaching pavilion, with a great crowd of interested, brown-skinned people, watching you and hanging on your interpreter's lips. Then come the spreading of the printed subscription sheets on a table, the registering of names, the sales of Buddhistic tracts and catechisms; the afternoon meal, cooked by your servant between some stones, under a palm tree; perhaps a second lecture for the benefit of newly-arrived visitors from neighboring villages; the good-byes, the god-speeds of rattling tom-toms and squeaky gourd-pipes, the waving of flags and palm fronds, the cries of Sâdhu! Sâdhu! and the resumption of the journey in the creaking cart. So on and so on, day after day, I went all over the Western Province on this business, rousing popular interest in the education of their children under the auspices of their own religion, circulating literature and raising funds for the prosecution of the work. So great was my discomfort that at last


I set my Yankee ingenuity to work, and had built for me a two-wheeled travelling-cart on springs, which could give ample sleeping accommodation for four people; had lockers projecting from the sides, for holding table-furniture, tinned provisions, a small library, and my bathing kit, two large ones under the floor for baggage, sacks of vegetables and curry-stuffs; a tight canvas roof on hoop-iron ribs, a chest in front for tools and spare ropes, hooks underneath for water-bucket, cattle-trough, etc., a secure shelf over the axle for the driver's cooking-pots, and rings behind for attaching a led bullock. After we got that, our troubles were at an end, and I lived in that conveyance for weeks at a stretch. It weighed less than a country cart, and was as comfortable as need be. By a simple change of longitudinal seat-planks inside, I could, at will, have a writing room, dining room, sleeping room, or an omnibus-like arrangement, with two cushioned seats running fore and aft, to accommodate eight sitters. It was as much a novelty to the simple country folk as the Buddhist Catechism, and priests and laity used to flock around to see its mechanical wonders. After the lapse of fifteen years the cart is still in serviceable condition, and has been used by Dhammapala, Leadbeater, Powell, Banbery, and various other workers in Ceylon. I have travelled many miles in the best Indian bullock-coaches, but not one compares for comfort and convenience with this. It would he a kindly act for someone to build it for the public, for it is equally useful for any part of the world where there are roads for a two-wheeled


conveyance and stout oxen to draw it. If I have permitted myself to say so much about it, it is only that my readers might fancy themselves along with me in my pioneering educational mission among the good Sinhalese, and realize how some of our time has been spent in Asia.
I was occupied with this business until 13th December, with occasional long breaks for visits to Colombo and Galle, and one to Tuticorin, South India, with a Buddhist Committee, about which I shall presently have more to say. The sum subscribed by these poor villagers towards the National Fund was only about Rs. 17,000, and of this, as it turned out, the Trustees collected no more than about Rs. 5,000; so that, pecuniarily speaking, my time was not too profitably spent for the Education Fund. For myself I, of course, neither asked nor received a penny. If this scheme had been undertaken the previous year, when the whole Island was boiling with excitement and enthusiasm over H.P.B.'s and my first visit, ten or twenty times as much might have been collected, but one cannot always think of everything, and this educational movement was a natural evolution out of experience.
I had great bother and trouble in getting formed of the best men two boards, one of "Trustees" and the other of "Managers," with a lot of red-tape checks and regulations and stuff generally. There was such petty jealousy, such contemptible intriguings to get the control of the money, and such ingratitude shown towards me, that I was at one time so disgusted that I was ready to throw up the


whole thing and let them make their funds and found their schools by themselves. But then, again, I had undertaken a duty which nobody among them, with their inexperience and their troubles of caste antipathies and local jealousies, could perform, and just because of their pettiness toward me, I felt that there was the greater need for me to stick to my work. I am glad I did so, for now we see the splendid harvest that has come from that sowing of seed: schools springing up everywhere; 20,000 Buddhist children rescued from hostile religious teachers; religion reviving, and the prospect brightening every year. Under the terms of the Trust, the collections were first lodged by me in the Government Savings Bank, then turned over to the Trustees, and by them loaned out at good interest on real-estate mortgages, the annual increment being given out for the fostering of Buddhist educational enterprises. It was a foolish policy to leave a village with subscriptions unpaid, for when the excitement of the moment had died away, the makers of fine promises bethought them that rupees were rupees, and schoolhouses then existed only in the mind's eye, and they clung to the cash as something tangible and real: if the dreams should ever take shape, why then . . . They have, and the rupees withheld from me have since been generously given to the cause which sits close to the national heart—that of their religion.
About this time a cluster of sympathetic Hindus at Tinnevelly had agreed to form a Branch of our Society and wanted me to come and inaugurate it. It seemed to me a good and noble thing to get a deputation of


Buddhist Theosophists to cross to India with me and fraternize with their Hindu colleagues, if the latter would make them welcome. I found the thing feasible, and after necessary preliminaries it was carried out. Our visit and its concomitants was of the most picturesque, besides setting a precedent previously unheard of in Hindustan since the great Emperor Asoka ruled the whole Peninsula and made Brahmin priests and Buddhist bhikshus to dwell together in kindly tolerance and mutual respect. At the same time it triumphantly showed the power of our talisman of Universal Brotherhood which—as I said in the last chapter—H.P.B. and I had a little while before agreed to put forward as our leading policy.
On 21st October our party embarked at Colombo. We numbered four viz., Messrs. Samuel Perera, William D'Abrew Rajapakse, William F. Wijeyesekara, and myself. Then there was "Bob," my Sinhalese servant, a most useful and necessary adjunct, with his basket of table and cooking utensils. We reached Tuticorin, the southernmost Indian port, the next forenoon, and found waiting at the jetty a huge crowd, including many Indian gentlemen of position who took us to the hotel, saw to our comfort, and put me up to lecture to a packed house that evening in the Anglo-Vernacular School building. There was such a crowd, and they made so much noise with their shuffling feet on the stone floor, that I overtaxed my throat to make myself heard, a bad beginning for the next day's business. The President and another representative of the Tinnevelly Branch came at 7 by train and stopped all night to escort us. Tinnevelly


is but thirty miles from Tuticorin, so it did not take us long to get there the next morning. But at a wayside station we were intercepted by a waiting crowd who had us out on the platform and gave us cocoanuts, plantains, and betel leaves in token of welcome, and wreathed our necks with jessamine chaplets to do us honor after their poetical fashion. At the Tinnevelly station there was a crowd; 2,000 people at least sweltered together in and about the building to get a glimpse of us. There were all the town notables in gala costume, and the huge elephants from the Temple, with their mighty brows painted with caste marks, which were made to raise their trunks and salute us with a roar. And priests with broad and high foreheads holding before us in benediction polished platters of brass, holding betel leaves, red powder, and burning lumps of camphor. And the presentation of notabilities, of whom each gave us two limes, with courtly salutations. And the clangor of huge horns, and long slim trumpets, or shawms, blown lustily amid the din of a dozen tomtoms. Then came a great procession, headed by the elephants trumpeting, the nobility and officials, on foot, escorting our palanquins, and my "Bob" in front of us carrying a brass jar of water on his head, a tuft of betel leaves emerging from the narrow mouth of the jar. And the banners and flags, large and small, each bearing some quaint device, waved all up and down the line, the 2,000 following and shouting joyfully. The omens, too, they said, were propitious: a frightened pullet flew over my head in the right direction: a nilakanta, or vividly blue bird,


was seen in an adjacent field on our right; a lizard chirped over our house porch the proper number of times. So everybody was happy in the glowing sunshine, and the town had on its holiday look.
They took us to our quarters, an upstair house with an upper and a lower verandah, whose portico and whole facade were decked out with flags and greenery. The street was packed with people for hours. We held a sort of durbar, or reception, at which there were speeches, replies, written addresses, betel, more garlands, limes, etc. In the evening I initiated fourteen new candidates and organized the Branch in due form. Then something to eat, and bed, and, for me, dreamless sleep until morning.
My throat was so, sore that I looked forward with some apprehension to the work I should have for it that day and the next. However, I soon had something to divert my thoughts from my physical disability, for the morning post brought me a letter from the Principal of the local Hindu College which let me into the wiles of the gentle missionary. My correspondent said that, although he called himself a Christian, he did not approve of some of the measures adopted in the interest of missionary propaganda, and enclosed for my information a copy of a pamphlet which had been circulated through the town the day before, to prejudice the community against us; the copies being distributed by hand by the servants of the missionaries, with the verbal message that they were sent "with the compliments of the Secretary of the Tinnevelly Theosophical Society". In violation of the law which requires that the names of the


printer and publisher shall appear on every printed work, this pamphlet revealed neither. Its contents were reprints of two meanly slanderous articles against us, from a London and a New York paper. The occasion to expose the dishonorable tactics of the enemy was so inviting that before beginning my lecture that afternoon at the Hindu College, I called attention to the pamphlet and denounced its authors in suitable terms. The blow recoiled upon the heads of our would-be assassins and our popularity was doubled. This is the sort of warfare that we have had to encounter throughout the whole period of our Indian work; and almost invariably the offenders have been Protestant missionaries.
On the next day occurred the ever-to-be-remembered incident of the planting of a cocoanut within the Temple compound, by our Buddhist delegation, as an act of religious amity and tolerance. The Nelliappa Pagoda, as it is called, is a very ancient stone structure with the usual pyramidal Gopurams carved to the summit with figures in high relief, and the covered stone ambulatories encircling the four sides. It was crowded to suffocation by a curious multitude when our procession reached there. Our order of formation was as follows: the frisky "Bob," wearing his Sinhalese comb and his hair in a big knot, appeared in the lead, carrying on his head his brass jar of water, with a ripe cocoanut resting on a bed of betel leaves on top; then the Temple band of musicians playing their loudest at our tympanums; then myself, followed by the three Sinhalese Buddhists; then a large body of notables, and some 1,500 people


bringing up the rear. We entered the Temple with flags flying and music playing amid a tumult of applause. Bob kept steadily on, and soon his shining jar seemed floating on a dark sea of humanity, as the crowd wedged in between him and ourselves. At last we struggled on to the platform prepared for us and mounted it. Five thousand people began shouting at once. Just a few yards back of us, in the open air, a hole had been dug for the nut, and it was covered over with an ornamental canopy. I held up my hand as the signal for silence, but as at least fifty or a hundred strong-lunged people began shouting to the rest to keep silence, it may be imagined what luck a speaker would have. When these shouters lost their voices, as many more took up the cries, and so it went on and on, until I thought I should have to give my address in pantomime; whereupon, comically enough, there came back to my memory the recollection of the fairy-like pantomimes of the Ravel Family which I had seen in boyhood! I tried to speak in the hope that when they saw my lips move and my body swaying, the crowd would give me a chance, but my bad throat compelled me to stop very soon. Then, when the case seemed hopeless, a light-skinned, intellectual-faced Brahmin, naked to the waist, arose in his place, towering above the squatting multitude, and, raising both arms full length above his head, pronounced the sacred salutation: "Hari, Hari Mahadeva-a-a!" The clear resonant sounds rolled far and wide, and silence fell upon the chattering multitude: I could even hear the sparrows twitter and the crows cawing outside. Instantly I began my


discourse and got through it more or less successfully. It was an appeal for religious tolerance and brotherly love, for their fraternal reciprocation of the good feeling which had brought over these Sinhalese, whose ancestors were Indians like theirs, and whose religious Teacher was recognized by them as one of the Avataras of Vishnu. It seemed to me I touched their hearts, for there were all the outward signs of friendliness. After I had finished, the Sinhalese chanted Pirit, benedictory verses in Pali, we four moved over to the place of planting, took the Ceylon cocoanut from its betel-leaf bed on the mouth of Bob's water jar, placed it properly in the ground, recited the Mangalam benediction, and then, sprinkling it with costliest rose-water given me by a Bengali friend for the express purpose, I christened the auspicious tree that was to be: "Kalpavriksha," after that wondrous tree of Paradise from whose all-supplying branches the happy ones may take whatsoever object their heart desires. A tempest of cheers and hand-clappings followed the completion of the ceremony, and we returned to our quarters, delighted with the day's successes. The next day we returned to Ceylon, by the S.S. "Chanda" and I resumed my work for the Education Fund.
The ordinary steam-passenger sees little of the loveliness of Ceylon, although that little is calculated to whet his desire to see more. The drives about Colombo, the exquisite railway trip by the seashore to Mount Lavinia, and the climb by rail to Kandy and Nuwera Eliya are experiences never to be forgotten; but I have seen the Island thoroughly, have visited


almost every little village in the Maritime Provinces at all times of the year, and I can endorse every word of praise that Professor Ernst Hæckel has written about it as fully deserved. And I saw the people as they are, at their very best; full of smiles, and love, and hospitable impulse, and have been welcomed with triumphal arches, and flying flags, and wild Eastern music, and processions, and shouts of joy. Ah! lovely Lanka, Gem of the Summer Seas, how doth thy sweet image rise before me as I write the story of my experiences among thy dusky children, of my success in warming their hearts to revere their incomparable religion and its holiest Founder. Happy the karma which brought me to thy shores!
One of the most delightful of my trips of 1881 was that to the hill-district of Ratnapura (City of Gems), the country where the famed precious stones of Ceylon are dug, and where the lordly elephant rules the forest. The scenery is charming, the verdure that clothes the landscape is of that brilliant tint peculiar to the Tropics in the rainy season. The encircling hills are blue and misty in the clouds which float about their crests. As I strolled down the road that passes through the town I met a string of tamed elephants with their mahouts, and stopped them to pay them some agreeable civilities. I fed them with cocoanuts bought at a neighboring stall, and patted their trunks and spoke friendly to them after the fashion of the wise. It was interesting to see how they got at the contents of the hard-shelled fruit. Holding them in a curve of their trunks, they smashed them against a stone or laid them on the


ground and stepped on them just hard enough to break the shells. One cracked his against a stone, let the juice run into his proboscis, and then poured it into his mouth. A large beast is worth Rs. 1,000—say, rather more than £ 55 in our now degraded rupees. Feudalism still holds its own in the hill tracts of Ceylon, having hardly yet been extirpated with the change of Government from native to British rule.
I lectured first at the Dewali, a temple dedicated to one of the Indian "patron deities" of Ceylon. Iddamalgodde Basnayaki Nilami, a noble of the old regime, is the incumbent of this temple and derives from it a considerable income. These Dewalis, or Hindu shrines, one sees in many places actually adjoining the Buddhist Viharas and within the same compound (enclosure). They are an excrescence on pure Buddhism, left by the Tamil sovereigns of former days, and, for the most part, are handsomely endowed with fields and forests.
A perehera, or elephant procession, was a fine sight. Imagine fifteen or twenty of these huge beasts marching along, all decorated with rich trappings; tinsel covered carts; Buddhist priests in yellow robes, borne along in portable shrines, trying to look meek but really swelling with pride; devil dancers (kappakaduwe) in fantasic costumes, and wearing huge, hideous masks, and harlequins following after; the three Nilamis, or noble headmen, in carriages, and the rear brought up by a long procession of men carrying food in baskets slung to pingoes, flexible poles of elastic wood, such as are commonly employed for


carrying burthens: the whole wild scene lit up by torches innumerable, of dried cocoanut fronds, which burn with a bright glare that turns every dusky figure into a charming artist-model.
After breakfast the next morning we "went gemming," that is, to dig a little in a piece of ground that one Mr. Solomon Fernando had given me for what I could get out of it for the Fund. For the first and only time in my life I realized the gaming excitement of mining. The chances were even whether I should get nothing or turn over a sapphire worth £1,000. I handled the spade first myself, but the climate soon warned me to turn over the search to the hardy coolies who stood waiting. We dug a half hour, and got about a handful of sapphires, rubies, topazes, and imperfect cat's-eyes by washing the dirt. I took them away in high glee, fancying in my ignorance, that the whole sum we needed for the Fund might perhaps be taken from this pit. Alas! when I had the gems appraised in Colombo, I found there was not a single stone of any commercial value in the lot. I never got anything at all from the pit, which was not the generous Mr. Fernando's fault. But I am wrong: I did get something later from him—a good loupe, or magnifying-glass, which he had cut for me from a pure rock crystal taken from my pit.
At 4 o'clock that day I spoke at the preaching-shed in the town and got Rs. 500 subscribed. But most of it is still unpaid; subscribing, for show, and paying, for conscience' sake, being two quite different affairs, as we found by sad experience in India as


well as in Ceylon. Stupid people, to believe in the law of Karma, and then break such voluntary contracts as these! They remind me of the Sinhalese folklore story of the dull-witted fellow who engaged a blacksmith to make him a knife, and cheated him by giving him soft iron instead of good metal!
A local. Branch of the Society resulted from my visit to this town. Another lecture followed on the next day, and the five most important Nilamis and Ratemahatmeyas—chief officials—were admitted into the membership of the Society. A Baptist missionary, attended by a grinning black catechist, came to my lodgings for an intellectual wrestle with me upon the respective merits of Buddhism and Christianity. They retired sadder, if not wiser men, and made no converts that time. At 11 p.m. our party embarked in a paddy boat, a platform laid over two canoes, to descend the river to Kalutara, where we were to take train. The Captain proved a cheat and a traitor, for, although our bargain was for the exclusive occupancy of the boat, he let come aboard about twenty-five men, despite our remonstrances. Finding argument useless, I bade our friends remove our luggage, and, collaring the fellow, took him before a police magistrate, who was close at hand. Leaving him in custody we engaged another boat and pushed off at once. We learnt afterwards from an acquaintance who was on a third boat, that, tying up by the bank at a village down the river, he overheard the men on our first boat talking near him about the failure of their plot to rob me of the money I had collected at Ratnapura,


and, if necessary, dispatch me! It seems that these villains were notoriously bad characters from the Pettah of Colombo.
We spent the next day delightfully on the river, admiring the green banks, the luxuriant foliage, the bright-plumed birds, and the mountain chain with its ever-shifting tints, Our meals, cooked on board in the most primitive style, consisted of curry and rice, and were eaten off leaf-plates, with our fingers, in Eastern fashion. The night was lovely as Paradise, with first a blaze of stars and then the fairy moonlight, creating about us a dream-landscape and silver-paved stream. The jungle noises were most novel to me, a stranger, and so was a huge crawling animal we saw moving at the water's edge, which I took to be an alligator, but which proved to be a huge lizard, seemingly six feet long. We shot the rapids at one place, and enjoyed the excitement of watching to see if our frail craft should go to pieces and leave us floundering in the water. But our Captain proved a splendid helmsman, and his son, a handsome, well-shaped lad of 13 years, stuck to his bow-oar with cool courage, and we soon passed down to the calm water below. This boy was a wonder to me. He ate nothing but curry and rice, and had not got his growth, yet he plied the oar throughout the trip of fifty-seven miles, for twenty-two hours at a stretch, save occasional short reliefs, and was as fresh at the end as at the start. I thought it would be hard to find a Western youth who could equal that feat of endurance,
We had no cots or bunks to comfort us, but sat all day and slept all night on mats laid on the bamboo


deck, after a bone-crushing fashion which I prefer to leave to the reader's imagination rather than dwell too long upon details. I will only say that a night passed without a mattress, on a tiled roof, is luxury in comparison with it. We reached Kalutara before cockcrow the next morning, took train, and got back to Colombo, for early breakfast, tired enough.
As everybody knows, there is no caste in Buddhism; it is repugnant to its principles, and yet it is recognized, and tenaciously held to among the Sinhalese Buddhists. There are no Brahmins or Kshattriyas among them, the highest social division being that of the agriculturists called Willallas. This is but a superior grade of Sudras, yet they are the aristocrats of the Island. Below them, socially, are various subdivisions, also marked by their callings, such as peelers of cinnamon bark, fishermen, toddy-drawers, and others. It is stupid to a degree that they should stick to their old notions, but the social divisions have been accentuated under Hindu dynasties extending over centuries, and such fixed habits are hard to eradicate. My policy was, throughout, to ignore them; and the better to create a bond of sympathy among my colleagues in the interest of our work, I arranged with the intelligent leaders of the Colombo Buddhist T. S. for an anniversary dinner to celebrate the completion of its first year existence. The function came off at our Colombo Headquarters on the evening of July 3rd, and was a delightful success. Fifty-seven of us sat at table regardless of castes, and good feeling prevailed. There were speeches in abundance, and the pleasant episode of presenting a diamond ring


to Mr. Wijeyesekara, the indefatigable Honorary Secretary. “The king of stones to the prince of secretaries,” as I put it in my presentation speech on behalf of the subscribers. Liberal gifts of money were made for Branch expenses by members, and all went off so well that everybody felt as if the true spirit of Buddhism had descended upon us.
On 7th July I held a second Convention of priests of both sects, to take counsel as to the best way to push on our work. Sixty-seven of them attended as delegates, and the pleasing spectacle was seen of the members of the two sects eating together. This was an advance upon last year's Convention, when, as may be remembered, I had them fed in separated rooms. My Convocation address was very attentively listened to, as interpreted to them. I had had prepared a large map of the Western Province, showing the boundaries of the different Korales (townships?), with their respective populations, and advised them what to do. Approbative speeches were made by H. Sumangala, Waskaduwe Subhuti, and Megittuwatte—the latter, as usual, a splendid one, which warmed all hearts. Resolutions favoring my plans and pledging help were passed, and we adjourned in the best of spirits.
The religious agitation reached all classes, even penetrating into the jails. On 20th August I received a petition from the convicts in Wellikodde Jail, Colombo, to come with Megittuwatte and lecture to them on their religion, Buddhism. The monk, being a recognized religious teacher, required no special permit, but my case had to be referred to the


Colonial Secretary, who granted it after some hesitation. Our audience comprised two hundred and forty criminals, including murderers and those in for murderous assault. One bright-faced, innocent-looking lad of 14 had been implicated in nine murders; in his last case he had held the victim while his uncle stabbed him to death! The uncle and two accomplices made their living by highway robbery and murder. The lad would be set to watch passers along a certain road and give signals, when, if all were safe, the hidden assassins would come out and slay their victims, rob them, and bury their bodies in the jungle. The uncle was hung, the boy spared on account of his youth. I took as the text of my remarks—which were translated by Mr. C. P. Goonewardene—the legendary story of Angulimala, the robber and bandit, whom Lord Buddha converted and made into a exemplary man.
The report of this meeting spreading among the criminal classes, I was invited to lecture, on 25th September, to a group of a hundred convicts engaged in building the new Lunatic Asylum. Here, again, I had pointed out to me a boy murderer—a Muslim, who slew his man when only 10 years of age.
One efficient plan adopted for raising money was a house-to-house visitation in the crowded quarter of Colombo, the "Pettah". Mr. W. D'Abrew, Mr. J. R. De Silva, and other leading members of the Colombo T. S., took it up with great spirit, and achieved success. Their way was to go the length of one street at a time, with a cart filled with "penny savings-bank" earthen pots, to gather the inhabitants of a


dozen houses together, explain the objects of the fund, get each of them to take a pot and promise to put in the slot whatever sum they could spare. At the end of the month the Committee would come around again, break the pots, count the coppers, in the presence of the donors, enter the names and amounts in a register, and give fresh pots. In this simple way several hundred rupees were collected within the year. Large employers of coolie labor, like the stevedores, Messrs. Matthew and H. A. Fernando, would get donations from their men on pay-days, and, in various ways, goodwill was shown by the Buddhist public. A touching case of generosity was reported to me one evening, just before a Branch meeting. While the Committee were haranguing some householders in a certain street, a poor, tired-looking woman, miserably clad, was seen to be listening with rapt attention. Presently she turned away and entered a house, from which she soon reappeared, and, approaching the Committee, handed them a single rupee for the fund. Bashfully, and with tearful eyes, she said that she gained her livelihood by grinding rice for another poor woman who sold âppas—the species of girdle-cakes I have mentioned above; her husband—a cartman—was laid up and unable to work; she had been saving up coppers of the smallest denomination, during the last six months, to buy herself a decent cloth; but she felt it was much better for her to help this noble object of the fund than to keep the money for herself; she would wear her old, torn garment another half-year. The story brought the tears to my eyes when I heard


it. In the course of the evening, I addressed the Branch about this modern instance of "the widow's mite," and said: "Gentlemen, this poor woman has earned her good Karma by her pious deeds; now let us earn the same by relieving her distress." I threw a rupee on the floor and invited others to do the same. Thirty rupees were soon gathered; and I bade the Committee find the woman and give her the sum. Some time after that, I had her brought to Widyodaya College, to a lecture of mine, and made her sit quietly near the platform, on which were gathered the High Priest and many other monks. In appealing to the large audience for funds, I said that certain gentlemen—naming them—had given 500, 250, 100, and other sums of rupees out of their abundance, but I would now show them a person who had given more than them all combined. Then I told the story and called the woman on to the platform. She was greeted with thunders of applause, and we got a large subscription that day for educational purposes.
A second Convention of monks was held by me that year at Galle. There were ninety-seven delegates, and the High Priest, Sumangala, and. Rev. Bulâtgama were the chief speakers. The object of the meeting was to lay out a programme for the next year's work, which was to be this time confined to the Southern Province. Upon counting up, at the close, it was found that fifty-two lectures had been bespoken, five more than I had given that year in the Western Province. A committee of twelve influential priests was chosen to co-operate with the lay members of the Galle T. S., for getting up the lectures


and fixing a time-table. After a two days' session the Convention adjourned. The Trust Deed and other legal papers having—after the most vexatious and unnecessary delays and impediments—been executed, and all other business closed up, I sailed for Bombay on 13th December.
It is my pleasant duty to state that, throughout these subsequent nineteen years, a certain number of the members of the Colombo Branch have applied themselves to the onerous task of keeping alive the Buddhist movement, with unflagging conscientiousness. When one realizes their inexperience in the management of public business unconnected with Governmental supervision; their infirmities of temperament, due to an enervating climate and to centuries of national disorder and the exclusion of the ancestors of most of them from public responsibilities, the embarrassing and unprecedented relation of the laity with the priesthood, in this religious and educational movement, the well-nigh irrepressible friction of caste, and the suspicion which many uneducated and unenlightened men feel towards foreigners, who are at the same time whites, one should rather wonder at the tenacity shown in pure altruistic work, than be surprised and shocked at faults that have cropped up in the course of events. For my part, I have never changed one iota in my first estimate of the Sinhalese, nor in my brotherly affection for them; and I feel heartily grateful when I see how this reborn religious sentiment has struck its roots deep into the heart of the nation, and how highly encouraging are the prospects for the future. Our Society Branches have, with


a few exceptions, been inert and useless as centres of Theosophy, but all have the right to take credit for a great total of work done along philanthrophical lines. My Western Province tour of 1881 was mismanaged, weeks of my time were frittered away, a mere fraction of the money subscribed on paper was collected; yet, in the long run, all has turned out for the best, and in reviewing the history of that year I have no reproaches to make against those who did their best according to their lights.
On 19th December I reached home and was joyously welcomed by our Headquarters group, whom I found in good health. Things in my absence had gone on in their usual way, the circulation of the Theosophist and the volume of our correspondence had increased, and all was peace. But a rude shock awaited me. H. P. B. conveyed to me a most kind message from the Masters about my success in Ceylon, seeming to have completely forgotten the angry threats and even written declaration that the Society would be abandoned by them if I went there, and that neither with them nor with her would I have any further relations. Thenceforward, I did not love or prize her less as a friend and a teacher, but the idea of her infallibility, if I had ever entertained it even approximately, was gone for ever.

Previous Page        Top of this page       Next Page