OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
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WE now cross the threshold of 1887, one of the busiest and most fruitful periods of our history. The year's programme was sketched out in Executive Council on 9th January, and on the 22nd I sailed for Colombo, where I arrived on the 24th. The leaders of the Ramanya Nikâya at once took me to Piyâgale to assist in celebrating the first anniversary of the death of their chief priest, Ambagahawatte, whose cremation was recently described in this history. I addressed the large crowd present, and, later, privately met in consultation the whole body of priests of the Ramanya. I warned them solemnly against allowing themselves, on the strength of their deceased leader's reputation, to cultivate self-righteousness and its concomitant, hypocrisy; I had observed, I told them, the symptoms of sectarianism and narrow-mindedness showing themselves, which I deprecated as diametrically opposed to the spirit of the Lord Buddha's teaching. The warning was needed, and, I fancy, it would do no harm if it were repeated at the present day.
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On the 27th I started for Badulla, a thriving station in the Uva District, situate about 4,000 ft. above sea-level, and possessed of a climate thoroughly renovating to European constitutions which have become debilitated by too long residence in the tropical lowlands. The railway from Colombo, via Kandy and Nanu Oya, which now runs to Bandarawela through some of the finest and most picturesque scenery in the world, had then been carried only as far as Nanu Oya, in the heart of the richest planting country, and so I was taken on the rest of the way in a special mail-coach. From the driver's seat we enjoyed the exquisite treat of the landscape views that opened out before the eye at every bend of the post-road. We stopped for the night at "Wilson's Bungalow," a Government rest-house, which we were glad enough to reach, for the road after dark was dangerous enough at any time by reason of its short curves and precipices, but now made much more so by the fact of our driver's being half drunk. I don't think I ever had a more anxious time than then, between nightfall and our arrival at the rest-house; I must have invented a half-dozen different ways of leaping or climbing over coach and driver towards the land-side, in case our bibulous Automedon should chance to drive his team over the brink of the chasm. All this was, however, soon forgotten with the appearance of a hot supper and a blazing wood fire, which the sharp, frosty air of the plateau made most grateful. And, by the way, nothing is more delightful and suggestive of home to the dweller in the Tropics, than the
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sense of shivering one gets at the hill-stations and the longing for a big fire in one's room. One can have this experience after a few hours' climbing travel from the steaming plains to Simla, Mussoorie, Darjeeling, Ootacamund, or Kodaikanal: he can mount from India to Europe, so to say, within five hours.
Our coach started at 6.45 the next morning, the air fresh, the sun shining, the landscapes like pictures freshly painted on the slopes and valleys and peaks about us. At the seven-mile-post from Badulla one party of friends met and escorted us, at the four-milepost another, and we entered town in a far-stretching procession of all the Buddhist notables of the place. We were lodged in comfortable quarters and given every necessary thing; the new Buddhist flag waved everywhere in the breeze, and a "Welcome" arch and escutcheon stood before our door. At 4 p.m. I lectured in the Sapragamuva Divali, and, later, offered flowers to the image of the Buddha in the temple Mutyânangané, a shrine said to be 2,000 years old. Here occurred a striking incident. W. D. M. Appuhami, a Vedarrachi, or native doctor, had a remarkably clever son of ten years, who was showing much precocity in picking up Sanskrit from his father's books, and whose young mind had a strong religious bent. The parents, especially the mother—a gentle, sweet-eyed woman—being also full of religious fervor, wished to consecrate their child to the ascetic life of the pansala, or vihare, and so brought him to me at the time of my flower-puja, and gave him into my hands to do with him what
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I liked. So, taking the little chap into my arms, I thrice held him out towards the old statue of the Buddha, each time repeating the familiar ascription: Namo, Tassa, Bhagavatto, Arahatto, Samma Sambudhassa; Then, returning him to the parents, I told them what to do to accomplish their object. To anticipate events somewhat, the boy did enter the Sangha, and I saw him at Galle in 1893 when there with Mrs. Besant and the Countess Wachtmeister.
The next day I had started for Colombo on my return; that night slept again at the Wilson Bungalow; rose at 3, to go on to Nanu Oya; took train for Kandy and reached there at 2 p.m., only to fall into the toils of a Committee who had got up a big perahçra, or procession, which took me (blushing with shamefacedness under the wondering gaze of European loiterers, and feeling every inch a fool) through the streets to my lodgings, with rattle of drum, screech of pipe, clang of cymbals, and contortions of devil-dancers—whose antics were made familiar to Londoners at the India-Ceylon Exhibition at Earl's Court three years ago. In fact, those very dancers had all danced before me in perahçras at one or another place in Ceylon during past years. At Kandy I gave various lectures to adults and children, held meetings of the local T. S. Branch, and went on to Colombo on 3rd February.
I had the pleasure of presenting to the High Priest, Sumangala, Captain Fiéron of the French Navy and two others, on behalf of my dear old friend, Captain Courmes, of the same service. Sumangala is always
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glad and much interested to see Europeans who have given attention to Buddhism, and always thanks me for bringing them to the College. Captain Fiérona was well versed in the principles of the religion, and long conversation was held between the visitors and the High Priest, through myself as interpreter, with the results of which both parties were apparently much delighted.
Among the lectures delivered in and about Colombo this time was one to the lepers, who had sent a very urgent request to me to visit them and give them the Pancha Sila and a religious discourse as to their meaning. This unhappy class are segregated at Colombo on a grassy, palm-embellished islet a few miles from town, where Government has commodious buildings for their occupancy and medical treatment. They themselves have built a little preaching-hall in which Buddhist religious emblems are kept, and are overjoyed when they can get any Buddhist to come and teach them something about their religion. It is a frightful experience, however, to face such an audience and see the distortions and mutilations caused in the human body by this pest of mankind. I had to shut my eyes a moment and brace myself up to the revolting sights before me, before beginning the Sila ceremony with the solemnly resounding Pali words of the opening sentence. Then, again, some extra interest was given to the occasion by the thought that perhaps one might get infected with the microbes of the awful disease, as Father Damien had and others. Of course, it was
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but a remote chance at best, yet it was one, just as it depends on one's Karma whether the bullet of Private X of tHe enemy's regiment in front of one's position shall find its billet in one's body for elsewhere; and until our doctors know more of the cause and cure of leprosy, such precautionary reflections are excusable. Well, the afflicted ones at Leper Island were very grateful for the visit and forgot the mutilations of their hands and their necessarily unlovely appearance, when they joined their palms together in front of their foreheads, and sent after me towards the flower-festooned barge their mournful cry of Sadhu! Sadhu!
The same evening I found myself in quite a different scene, when, at our Colombo Headquarters, we held the annual elections for officers of the Branch, and all, of every caste, sat together at the usual dinner.
To Galle my programme took me next, and thither I went by coach on the 7th. Outside the town the late Mr. Simon Perera, President of our Branch, and the other chief Buddhists, met me, and we entered Galle in procession. During the week I spent there, I was, as usual, kept busy with lectures to adults, talks to youth, arbitrating in quarrels between rival societies, seeing Bulatgama—H. P. B.'s "Father-in-God" of l880—and doing other things that came my way. I was pleased with a visit made me by Cornelis Appu, my first paralytic patient of 1883, the predecessor of thousands who came after him. His paralysis had not returned after my treatment of him, and his gratitude
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was correspondingly fervent. But all my patients did not have such good luck.
On my return to Colombo I began compiling the epitome of Buddhist morals, since widely known under the title of The Golden Rules of Buddhism. It is incredible how ignorant the Ceylon Buddhists were of the merits of their own religion, and how incapable of defending it from unscrupulous Missionaries who were then much more than now—though too much even now—in the habit of reviling their neighbour's faith in the hope of advancing the interests of their own. To meet this want the little monograph in question was compiled.
It is not a pleasant thing to say aught against the dead, but the dead and the living are alike in the eye of the historian who but records events and leaves Karma to work out its own adjustments. At the time in question I had every reason to be dissatisfied with the behavior of Megittuwatte, the orator, the champion of Buddhism at the famous intellectual tournament at Panadure which proved a terrifice blow to Missionary work. He was a man of mixed characteristics and motives. He had helped me to raise the Sinhalese National Buddhistic Fund in the Western Province, and when the Trust Deed was being drafted had given us no end of bother. His aim seemed to have been to get the absolute control of the money, regardless of the rights of all who had also helped in the raising of the funds; and at this time, four years later, his vindictiveness and combativeness burst out afresh. He attacked the Colombo Branch, asked why they had not
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opened schools throughout the Province, and raved away as though a lac or two or three had been collected instead of a beggarly Rs. 4,000, the interest on which would be only Rs. 400, and of that only one half, under the terms of the Trust, could be used for aiding Buddhist schools. From having been my enthusiastic panegyrist, he had now turned to the other side, and, always a specious and silvery-tongued man, had begun to drag the amiable High Priest into his way of thinking, and to make inevitable a breach between us, which to Sinhalese Buddhism at that time would have been very harmful. He had asked me to lecture at his temple at Kotahena on the 18th, which I did to a great crowd; but one may guess my feeling of anger and disgust when I learnt that the fiery discourse in Sinhalese, with which he followed my lecture, was a venomous attack on the Colombo B. T. S. and myself. Sumangala was present and seemed shaken in his friendship for me, but joined with Megittuwatte in asking me to lecture on the following evening at the same place. The next morning, while thinking how I could escape from the trap that was being fixed for me to walk into, I learnt that a steamer of the British India line would sail that forenoon for Bombay, so I got my things quickly packed, called a carriage, bought my ticket, and by 11.30 a.m. was on the wide ocean, sailing away from the wily fowler who had spread his net for a bird too old to be caught so very easily. I left my parting compliments for him, with a message that he might lecture in my place!
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During the nineteen years of close intercourse between Sumangala and myself, this was the only time when there was even a small chance of a breach being made in our friendship. Megittuwatte did his best to crush our brave little group of hard workers in the Colombo Branch. He even started a small paper, in which, for months, he exhausted his armory of invectives, but all to no purpose. The only result was to weaken his influence, lessen his popularity, and expose himself as a selfish, uncharitable, and pugnacious man, while actually strengthening our hold on the public sympathy.
Reaching Bombay on the fifth day, I was kindly welcomed by our colleagues and put up in the Society's rooms, from the windows of which I had one of the prettiest panoramas of land and sea imaginable. The large audience which greeted me at our old lecturing place, Framji Cowasji Hall, showed that our removal to Madras had not destroyed our hold on the affections of the Bombay public. After a week there I went on to Bhaunagar, the very misnamed "Model Native State" of Sir Edwin Arnold, which, with much that was fair-seeming on the outside, had more or less moral rottenness, I fear, inside.1 Sir Edwin was treated with lavish hospitality, and having revisited the East predisposed to see everything rose-colored, he did not lift the lids of the gorgeous caskets in India and Ceylon and see the foul linen so often kept within. During
1 Of late years things have greatly improved, I am happy to say.
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the minority of the late Maharajah many public works had been carried through by the agents of Government, and so Bhaunagar is called a progressive State, and we may let it pass at that. My host and friend on this occasion was, of course, the Maharajah's cousin, Prince Harisinhji, F.T.S., and my visit to him was a most pleasant episode.
I exchanged visits with most of the high officials of the State, had an audience and long talk with the Maharajah, and also paid my respects to the late ex-Dewan Udaiyashankar Gouriashankar, C.S.I., then an octogenarian and nominal sanyasi. I say nominal because, while officially retired from the world and clad in the red-yellow cloths of the Indian ascetic, and wearing a large string of beads around his neck, he still clung to his immense fortune, and his three anterooms were crowded with the same worldly-looking courtiers as one sees in the apartments of all native prime ministers. I tried to get him to promise to devote large sums to religious purposes, but he always changed the conversation, and I finally took my leave with a different opinion of his sanctity from that which Sir Edwin gives in his book of travels, and has expressed elsewhere. It is the rule, not the exception, throughout India, that retired Government pensioners who, throughout a long official career have been immersed in worldly interests, assume the externals of piety when the goal of their incarnation comes within sight; but I have my own opinion about their having any real "change of heart" and inward purification.
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I had the pleasure while at Bhaunagar of being joined by Mr. E. T. Sturdy, of New Zealand, who has since then played a prominent part in our Society's affairs. He accompanied Prince Harisinhji and myself to Junagad, the next Native State on our programme. In the Hindu Dewan of this Muslim State, Mr. Haridas Viharidas, I found one of the ablest, most energetic, and high-minded men I had met in India: in nervous activity and clearness of judgment he was of the Western rather than the Oriental type. Everything possible he did for us. Among other things he took us to see a very fine collection of Indian lions and other animals in the Nawab's Sirkar Bagh, and what was still better, to see the world-famous rock at Girnar on which the Emperor Dharmasoka had had inscribed, two thousand years ago, one of his noble Edicts. By request, this being a Muslim State, I lectured on "Islam," the Nawab's brother-in-law occupying the chair. The next day, in the High School, by request of the Hindu community, I lectured on Theosophy, as from the Hindu point of view. The Dewan Sahib was chairman, and kindly headed a subscription for the Adyar Library with the sum of Rs. 200. He also arranged for me a Durbar of the strange religious sect founded by the Swami Narayan a few years before. It differs from all other Indian sects in its Head being a family man and dressing in layman's clothes. Under him are a great body of ascetics, who wear the red-yellow cloths of the ordinary sanyasi, and another group or class of householders,
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who attend to all the business affairs of the fraternity—a sort of lay brothers, so to say. Though but a young sect it had amassed a good deal of wealth, I was told, and the richness of the temple where the Durbar was held, especially its floor of pure Italian marble skilfully matched and laid, and its gilt railing behind which were the cloths, wooden sandals, and staff of the late Swamiji, confirmed that impression. I asked the presiding functionary to tell me what signs of spiritual power the Founder had given, and was told that he had healed some diseases and done certain phenomena beyond the power of ordinary persons. It then appeared to me as plain as day what H. P. B. and I might have done in India for our own enrichment and glorification if we had displayed our respective gifts—hers of phenomena, mine of healing—and played upon the ever-ready credulity of the masses by the falsehood of a special divine mission.
We left for Bhaunagar again on the 15th (March), and visited other places of interest there. The grand carved doors of the Adyar Library, on which are represented the Ten Avatâras of Vishnu, were the gift of Harisinhji, and at Bhaunagar were awaiting my inspection before shipment. Imagine my surprise on finding that each avatâra panel was flanked by tiny medallions in which were carved emblems which the native artisan thought would be most acceptable to the European taste. There they were, a silent sermon for our edification; on one, a pistol; on another, a corkscrew; on a third, a soda-water bottle; on a fourth,
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a padlock, etc.! And the innocent carver could not understand in the least the expression of horror that came into my face when I saw these artistic monstrosities. His own look of blank astonishment was too much for my gravity, and I exploded in laughter, giving him, no doubt, a suspicion that I was not altogether sane. The doors were not shipped until the offensive symbols had been cut out and replaced with lotus buds, as they now stand. On the 18th Mr. Sturdy left me for Ceylon to attend to some Society business there, and on the next day I went on with Harisinhji to his private estate at Varal. We reached the confines of the village after dusk, and a torchlight procession, with Brahmanic chants, floral showers and wreaths, escorted me to the Prince's house. Then followed sixteen days of sweet rest and friendly intercourse; by day working at correspondence and inspecting the farms and fruit-gardens, in the evening sitting together on Indian carpets laid on the grass, the air perfumed with floral scents, my friend and I smoking, his beloved wife talking to us in her soft, musical tones, and the household servants and feudal retainers grouped in the background to listen to the music and songs of the Prince's sitar player; above us the stars and the azure sky of the Indian night. On the evening of the 25th there came a troupe of Brahmin jugglers and comedians, whose performances were most skilful. There were plate-spinning on sticks, with bodily twists and contortions; dancing on naked sword-blades with the bare feet, and on wooden sandal-soles, which
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had no peg or strap for the toes to catch hold of; balancing of a goglet (Indian decanter) of black glass on the head, and the working of it forward to the nose, backward to the nape of the neck, and sidewise to the temples, and many other feats of skill, all wonderful. I supposed this was the last of them, but the next evening, as we sat out in the starlight, there suddenly rose the cry, "Hari! Hari! Mahade-e-va!" at the bottom of the garden, and I saw striding towards us a tall, majestic figure made up like the familiar picture of Siva himself as the Yogî—matted locks, staff, tiger-skin mantle and all, a most impressive surprise. He came to an appointed spot near us, and then we had a sort of mystery play enacted, Siva doing a number of âsanas, or yogic posturings, and other gods performing their respective parts, with as finished skill as our best actors could have done on our prepared stage. At—to me—jarring note was the buffoonery of a sort of clown, personating a Bania retail merchant haggling with customers, exceedingly well done, yet quite inharmonious with the religious play of the gods led by the mighty Siva. The next day this latter actor gave us a small proof of his yogic training by burying his head in the ground and keeping it there some time, the loose earth having been thrown in and pressed about his head by an attendant.
My visit reached its close at last, and on 5th April the Prince and I left Varal for Limbdi, the enlightened ruler of which State had invited me to pay him a visit.