OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
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I WAS loath to exchange the cool, bracing climate of Darjeeling for the hot, vaporous temperature of the Plains, but I had still many hundred miles of journeying before me before my tour should be finished and I could take rest at green Adyar, with its refreshing ocean breezes and its river running just beneath my chamber window. So, after more talks with the Tibetan traveller and my other friends, more conversations, and a public lecture at the Town Hall, I descended the mountain to Siliguri, the junction-place of the Himâlayan Railway and the Northern Bengal and sweltered in a temperature of 100o to a most uncomfortable extent. It suggested to me the change from the outer air on a crisp morning to that of a greenhouse. However, work had to go on all the same, and I organised the Siliguri T. S. that same evening, sat up late talking and answering the metaphysical conundrums they are so fond of putting in this country, and slept on the stone platform of the station as the coolest—say, rather, the least hot—place to be found.
Saidpur, the next place on the programme, was reached at noon on the 19th (June, 1885), and at 6 p.m. I lectured to a very large gathering on
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"Theosophy and the Aryan Revival". There was another lecture on the next day and the admission of several new members as the happy proof that the malign influence of our persecutors had not spread that far. I went next to Rajshahye via Nattore, and I mention the detail merely because the distance from Nattore to my destination had to be made in a palanquin—the most ignoble of all modes of conveyance, I think, to a healthy man. Fancy yourself lying at ease on your back, smoking, reading, or dozing, in a coffin-like box carried by poles on the shoulders of six or eight undersized coolies, in a pouring rain, over a sticky clay road, twenty-eight miles in nine and a half hours; the wretched pole-bearers gasping a droning refrain the whole way, except when they would groan to excite your pity and get bakshish—and say whether I am not right. True, they are trained to it from boyhood, and at the end of such a heavy journey as this would come in to your place on the trot, but still I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself, innocent though I was of any part in the business. “Talk, talk, talk”—says my Diary—"with all the clever men in Rajshahye, including a German Professor of Physics in the local College"; and there were the usual public lectures and admissions into membership. The return transit to Nattore was even worse than the other, for, leaving at 2 p.m., we did not get there until after 2 a.m.! By that day noon we were back in Calcutta, and I went from the Sealdah station straight on to Bhowanipore to see Maji, who had come from Benares
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on a visit to Nobin K. Bannerji at his family house. I had a three-hours' talk with her through Nobin, and she told me that Damodar was then at a place four-days' journey from Darjeeling. This we now see, on referring to his Diary, was not the fact; so it goes to make another point against the accuracy of Maji's revelations—for which I am sorry. I saw her daily during the fortnight that- I spent in Calcutta, and was always much interested by her discourse. She was always surrounded by a small crowd of inquirers, and her answers displayed erudition and insight. Her attractive manner and sympathetic voice added to her popularity. Finally, there was that glamor of supposed mystical powers which attaches in India to every respectable yogî and yoginî, and which is a survival of the traditions of the olden times. These powers she must have had to some extent, for we have seen that on our first meeting, in 1879, before anything was known in India about H. P. B.'s connection with two certain Adepts, she told me things about them that she could not have learnt from third parties, and in Damodar's Diary we read how she astonished him with her revelations about Subba Row and others. It was my early enthusiasm about her that mainly caused Nobin, Dinanath, Bihari, and Shama Charan Babus to come to her as disciples, and to do so much to make her known and popular in Bengal and Bihar; so that, naturally enough, I was most anxious for her reputation as a mystic to be fully sustained. If it has not, it is not my fault.
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The local Committee had me lecturing in all the quarters of Calcutta during my fortnight's stay. Among other topics given me was a defence or Hinduism against the missionary charge of gross superstition and immorality. It will scarcely be credited by those who have even a superficial knowledge of the ethical teachings of the Aryan sages, that the chief of the Scottish Mission in Calcutta had the effrontery to put in print the assertion that Hinduism tends to make its men liars and its women unchaste; yet he did this, and it fell to me to refute this outrageous calumny. To hear me, the elite of Hindu society were invited, on 3rd July, to the house of the venerable scholar and nobleman, Raja Radhakanta Deb Bahadur, author of the great lexicon, Sabdakalpadruma. I believe every local Indian scholar of note was present, and that I had no great difficulty in proving my case.
So far from encouraging, untruthfulness, dissoluteness of behavior, or any other vice, the Shastras teem with exhortations to noble conduct and the striving after the very highest ideals. Manu (VI, 92) enumeates the following "ten-fold system of virtuous duties"; Contentment; abstention from injury to others, active benevolence, and returning good for evil; resistance to sensual appetites; abstinence from theft or illicit gain; purity, chastity, and cleanliness; correction of the passions; acquisition of knowledge; acquisition of Divine Wisdom; veracity, honesty, and fidelity; freedom from wrath and hatred. A little farther on he says: "Persevere in good actions, subdue thy passions,
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bestow gifts in a suitable manner, be gentle, bear hardship patiently, associate not with the malignant, and give pain to no sentient being." Again, he says (II, 239; IV, 178): "Walk in the path of good people, the path in which thy forefathers walked. Take examples of good conduct from all, as nectar is taken from poison, gentleness of speech from a child, prudent conduct from an enemy, and gold from dross." Again: "Though reduced to penury in consequence of thy righteous dealings, give not thy mind over to unrighteousness." Then, we find in the Taittiriya, the Mundaka, and the Œandilya Upanishads this injunction: "Speak the truth (Satyam). Truth alone conquers, not falsehood. No religion or morality is higher than truth. Nothing is higher than truth." It was hence that the Benares royal family took their motto, which, with the late Maharajah's permission, I adopted as the legend of the Theosophical Society. "Mercy is the might of the righteous," says the Vishnu Purana (I, 21), an axiom that matches the noble definition of Mercy that Shakespeare put into the mouth of Portia. And how poetical and touching is this sentiment from Hitopadesa: "A good man thinks only for benefiting all and cherishes no feeling of hostility towards anyone, even at the moment of his being destroyed by him; just as the sandal tree sheds perfume on the edge of the axe when it is being felled." Manu (VI, 47) goes so far as to say: "Being treated cruelly, do not return the cruelty. Give blessing for curses." Is there anything more noble in any other Scripture?
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So we might go on multiplying similar quotations from the teachings of the Aryan sages, to prove the cruel injustice of those who concur with the Calcutta missionary that Hindu religion is the nurse of vicious tendencies. How can such people ever hope to convert intelligent Hindus to their religion? How far the sympathies of the Indian public went with us may be judged from the fact that, whereas my public audiences ran from 1,500 to 2,000, only a score or so of persons, and the Christians, went to listen to an address, given after my departure by one of the ablest preachers of the missionary party, denunciatory of our views!
On 7th July I left Calcutta for Bhagalpore, but was intercepted at Nalhati Junction by our dear brothers of Berhampore, and, so to say, compelled to diverge in their direction. Between Azimgunj and Berhampore is the Palace of the Nawab of Murshedabad, an old friend of mine; and he had arranged for me to break journey, spend part of the day with him, and dine at the Palace. I did so, and he and I had a long talk about religious and scientific matters, and parted with expressions of mutual goodwill. My reception by the friends at Berhampore was as usual, most cordial, and my four days there were full of pleasant experiences. With one exception, however; for on the 9th we heard by telegraph from Calcutta on the sudden death of Nobin K. Bannerji, President of this Branch, of whom I have spoken above. He was to have met me at Berhampore on the 9th, but died of an attack of cholera. Among our Indian
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colleagues not one was more prized and beloved than he, and it is a consolation for me to know that he is likely to soon reappear in the ranks of our workers in a better body than he had in the last incarnation.
I reached Bhagalpore, my next station, on the 12th, and became the guest of Tej Narain, whom I have mentioned in my notes on the Darjeeling visit. Here I met Babu Baidyanath Bannerji, my blind patient of Calcutta, whose sight I restored as the reader will probably remember. Well, I found him again blind. His restored sight lasted only six months and then faded out, and the pall of black night again descended upon him. As before, a boy now led him into my presence, and he looked up into my face with that inexpressibly touching expression that one finds in the eyes of the sightless ones. I felt very sorry, and not altogether hopeful of being able to do any good. However, I drew him into the room, kept him standing, and began the same course of manipulation that I had employed so successfully two years before. I touched my finger-points to his closed eyes, sometimes those of one hand, sometimes of both; when it was the former it was the right hand that I held to the eyes, and the left was laid on the nape of the neck. Then I made passes before the eyes and the brow, and, finally, breathed gently on the eyeballs through a glass tube. All the while, of course, I was willing with my whole strength that the sight should be restored. Thus keeping on for a half-hour, I was at last rejoiced to hear him ask: "Is that a table behind you?" It was,
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and thenceforward and by degrees the blessed light came back into his darkened orbs, until he could at last distinguish every object in the room. Ah, if you could have seen the heavenly smile that spread over his features then! You would have stood there, as I did, amazed at the discovery that you had this sort of divine gift of healing, and that it needed but a few passes of your fingers and a few breathings over a blind man's eyes to draw him out of midnight gloom into the sunlight of sight, with the whole panorama of surrounding objects opened before him.
This case of Baidyanath teaches a great scientific fact, viz., that blindness, when due to suspended nerve action, may be removed by mesmeric treatment, provided that the right conditions as to mesmeriser and patient are given; that the sight, thus restored, may fade out after a time, when, presumably, the nerve-stimulus has subsided for lack of renewal; that, even after an interval of two years, the sight may be again restored and after even a very brief treatment. The reader will recollect that when Badrinath (or Baidyanath) Babu was first treated by me at Calcutta and elsewhere, after ten treatments he was able to read fine print with one eye and see a bed of flowers at some distance with the other. On this second occasion, two years later, I made it possible for him, after a bare half-hour's treatment, to read the smallest type in a newspaper and, of course, to distinguish every object within the range of ordinary vision. It is true—as I learned subsequently—that
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his sight failed him a second time, but only after twice the number of months that it had before. This made me believe that if I could have had the patient under constant treatment for, say six months, the optic nerves would have been restored to normal function and the cure completed. The lesson to professional healers is that they should never despair if there should be a relapse after a first success. Moreover, they should note that, whereas the confidence of the patient may have been shaken by the loss of sight after the first operation, it can be restored in spite of that, with one-tenth the trouble as before. The sine quâ non is that there shall be no lesion in the nerves, for that makes a break that can never be mended.
At Jamalpur, when 'lying in bed one morning, I had my first experience of an earthquake, and it was curious. It seemed to me as if the house were solid but built on a stratum of bog, or jelly, which was all of a quiver, like the generous paunch of St. Nicholas when he was laughing—if we may believe the famous Christmas poem! While it lasted, my memory recalled sundry stories of historical earthquakes, and I was not sure whether the house would not tumble about my ears; still I thought I might as well take the chances where I was, as to rush outdoors and perhaps drop down some crack.
Among the topics of discourse given me here by the local Committee was: "Theosophy Not Antagonistic to Hinduism." On thinking it over, I invented a new plan. Among the members of the Bhagalpore
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T.S. was the late Pandit Nityânand Misra, a most excellent man and capable Sanskrit scholar, who had come to Jamalpur with me. So I arranged with him that he should sit beside me at the lecture, I should go on and make my points one by one, should pause after each, and he should then rise, repeat some sloka of Gita without a word of comment, and then sit down, and I would go on to my next stage. Both he and I spoke extemporaneously—i.e., without notes or any defined plan previously agreed upon—and this made all the more interesting and striking his flexibility of mind and thorough familiarity with his national literature. The effect on the audience may be guessed.
At Bankipur I was kept up to a very late hour, the day of arrival, by visitors, and on retiring I sank into one of those deep sleeps which I can always get when there is nothing else to do, and which brace me up for the wearisome round of a travelling tour. At the College, the next day, I had a very crowded audience, including several hundred students, the ones I most love to address. One of the Professors, an English gentleman, was good enough to preside, and his boys were particularly enthusiastic. The Principal, however, moved by an unreasoning prejudice, refused the hall for the second lecture, and the Committee had to make other arrangements. If these narrow-minded men could only realise how they weaken their personal influence with their pupils by these futile attempts to do us harm; how, in fact, they largely increase their sympathy and their enjoyment of your discourses
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on the national literature and religion, surely they would not be so tactless as they usually are. Not one of them ever heard a Theosophical lecturer say one word that was opposed to good morals, or that had the slightest tendency to make his or her hearers worse than they are; quite the contrary; yet they go on nourishing hatred against us, and vainly trying to belittle our strong influence in every way by word and action. Poor creatures, they might as well try to pull the stars out of the sky! While they are dreaming their impotent dreams of malice, the influence of Theosophy is travelling the whole earth, like a thrill of electric force that might run around the planet. One has to come to India to realise how a whole community of European people can become steeped in besotted prejudice against us. Their own relatives at home throng Mrs. Besant's lectures, buy our books, take in our magazines, and join our Branch Societies; but these hold themselves aloof, and use the name of our dear H.P.B. as a word to curse by. More's the pity, for I am perfectly sure that it would only need the aid of some ardent society man, like the late Samuel Ward, or society woman, like some I know of in our European and American Branches, to bring around nine-tenths of the community. But then we public speakers should have to lecture to them and such few of the higher-class Hindus as they might choose to invite, or to confine our talks to their drawing-rooms where no ordinary Hindu is welcomed. In a word, the color line is drawn across the gateway of almost every
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Anglo-Indian bungalow, and our obliviousness to this fact is one the strongest causes of our unpopularity. One could see, when Mr. and Mrs. Sinnett and Mr. Hume were introducing us into Anglo-Indian society at Simla, that there were no insuperable obstacles between them and ourselves, and that if we could run in their grooves we might in time become quite friendly. But this we could never do, for that would mean almost cutting ourselves adrift from Hindu society; and so we must go on as hitherto, close to the hearts of the Indians and far away from the other community, our blood relations and nearest of kin in the flesh—of this incarnation. It seems a pity, but we can't help it; for one reason, that we can neither afford the money that we should have to spend in society, nor the time that would have to be consumed in visiting and going to "functions of sorts" to keep up acquaintances.
At Benares, Pandit Bhavâni Shankar Ganesh—then doing duty as one of our Branch Visitors—joined me for the rest of the tour throughout the N.W.P. We took boat on the Ganges to pay a visit to Maji's ashram, to which she had returned from her Calcutta visit. We were caught in a heavy downpour of rain and well wetted.1 In the afternoon H.H. the old Maharajah of Benares presided at my lecture at the Town
1 By an interesting coincidence, just after the above had been sent to the printer, I read in the Indian Mirror of a very recent date the following obituary notice of this remarkable woman:
"We are much concerned to hear of the passing away from this worldly plane of the venerable lady, known to the numerous visitors to the holy banks of the Baruna at Benares, and to the wide
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Hall, and the notorious Raja Siva Prasad interpreted; which did not give satisfaction to the better part of the audience, as he indulged in remarks of his own, adverse to my views. At the close, that ripe scholar and ex-professor at the Anglo-Sanskrit College, Babu Pramada Dasa Mitra, made a very dignified and acceptable. speech in moving the vote of thanks. He was my Chairman the next day at a lecture to Indian Youth, in the course of which I gave a summary digest of the Six Schools of Indian Philosophy, and which caused an orthodox Hindu gentleman to call on me next day and say that I had now brought the orthodox community to realise that our Society was not a mere Buddhist propaganda. He said I was to be elected a member of the Sanskrit Club, which held daily sessions to recite and discuss Shastras.
We next moved on to Mirzapur, at the request of the Maharajah of Durbhunga, then stopping there at one of his many palaces. He sent Col. Jung Bahadur, of Nepal, and Babu Juggul Kissore, his own Political Agent, to meet us at the station and see us housed, and later in the day came and took me for a drive
circle of her admirers, as Majee, the Mother. In every respect the deceased lady was a remarkable personality. She was a Sanskrit scholar, and something of an adept in occult studies. She was easily accessible, and all those who had the privilege of close acquaintance with her, literally worshipped her as a divinity. Majee was one of the few who thoroughly believed in, ands testified to, the mission of the late Madame Blavatsky, and bore testimony to the existence of the Great Teachers who have done so much for the propagation of Theosophical truths in the world."
Maji was a Guzerati Brâhmini by caste, but spoke other Indian languages, including Sanskrit, fluently. She was a thorough Vedantin, and of a very cheerful temperament.
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and a three-hours' talk. We spent two days with him, and before leaving he expressed his great appreciation of our Theosophical movement, which, he said, he felt sure was destined to do immense good to his country. He then handed me a Government Promissory Note for Rs. 1,000, which sum, he said, I might count on his giving us annually. This was done without the slightest preliminary expectation on my part, and I felt very grateful indeed. How he kept his promise will be shown in due time.
On to Fyzabad next, where there are almost as many wild monkeys. swarming over the house and shop roofs as there are people in the place. And pestiferous creatures they are: they will dart into your very room and snatch and run off with any fruit, article of dress or toilet, or any other loose and portable object that may be lying about. One tall chap sneaked at night into my servant Babulal's window, carried off his trousers, leaped across the narrow street to the roofs, called his friends together, and went to biting and tearing the garment, out of sheer mischief.
At my lecture here the very large audience was swelled by the presence of some two or three dozen Europeans—an unusual circumstance. H. H. the Rajah of Ayodhya, the ancient kingdom of Srî Râma, came to call on me, as did also a number of Pandits and a Committee with the usual address and garlands.
On 29th July I rose at 3 a.m., crossed the swollen Ghogra River in an open boat in a heavy rain-storm, took train, and reached Gorakpur at 7 in the evening.
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Here, as at all the Northern stations, there were long discussions on the Coulomb-Missionary case, the putting of questions, the showing of letters and papers by me, an invitation of full inquiry, and the re-establishment of confidence and good feeling between us. A tour of this kind seems to acquire a sort of spiritual source as it goes on, which follows and surrounds the lecturer, making him increasingly confident and influential, and more and more able to drive back hostile currents that may be flowing into his vortex. I fancy this has occurred to all the travelling representatives of our Society; they may have felt the power without having stopped to analyse its cause. To get at that, one must look on the next higher plane of consciousness above this one of our everyday world.