OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
DEATH OF SUBBA RAO
As my older friends know, I was from 1854 to 1860, almost entirely absorbed in the study and practice of scientific agriculture. The taste for it has never left me, and on two or three different occasions the Government of Madras has availed of my experience in these matters. A few days after the events described in the preceding chapter I went to Salem, an ancient town in Madras Presidency, to serve as a judge of agricultural implements and machinery, by request of Government, and the Japanese Commissioners joined me there, after a short tour of inspection of farms, on which they were accompanied by an expert deputed by the Department of Land Records and Agriculture. Tents had been pitched for us within the railway station compound, and we were supplied with meals at the restaurant at Government expense. I gave one lecture on “Agriculture” at the show grounds, with Mr. Clogstoun, Director of the above-named Department, in the chair, but I refused several invitations to give public addresses on Theosophy, as, for the moment,
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I was a sort of Government officer, and did not think it right to mix up my private concerns in religion and metaphysics with my temporary public duties. It would have been in bad taste, as I told my friends the Indians, but I was quite ready to come to Salem for their special benefit later on if they wanted me. On the third day I returned to Madras and took up current work. Dr. Sawano and Mr. Higashi, having finished their inquiries, left for Japan on 24th February. Dr. Sawano wrote me later that after his return the Japanese Government kept him busy lecturing upon scientific agricultural topics, with illustrations based upon his observations in Europe, America, and India. In his letter to me he says:
“Your name has appeared in nearly all the Japanese papers, in connection with your kind treatment of our Commission and the help you gave us to gather useful information in India. Many Japanese, who yearn after you, come and ask me about the present condition of your Theosophical Society, and of your health. Some eagerly desire to go to India and study under you, and some without private means would be only too glad to perform any service in your house or on the place, only to be with you, and able to devote part of their time to acquiring knowledge.”
A queer creature of a Hatha Yogi, who leaped about like a kangaroo and made himself otherwise ridiculous, walked twelve miles to see me on 2nd March. He said he had clairvoyantly seen me at a certain temple the night before, and his goddess had
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ordered him to pay me a visit for his spiritual good. The only phenomenon which he exhibited was to make fall from the air a number of limes, which he presented to me. I can't say how much, the visit profited him, but certainly it did not seem to have much effect on me, beyond making me realise once more how foolish it was for men to undergo so long and severe a training to so little purpose. He gets a certain small amount of wonder-working power—not an hundredth part of H. P. B.'s—some thought reading power, some troublesome elementals dangling about him, and that is all! He violated the good old rule not to prophesy unless you know, by predicting to Mr. Harte and Ananda, whom I sent to see him the next day, that within six years I should certainly be able to perform great miracles. The only miracle that happened within that time was the salvation of the Society from harm when Mr. Judge seceded, along with the American Section; but that was not of the sort he had in mind, though a very good and substantial performance. Ananda, however, was so much impressed by the Swami that he stopped away from Adyar two days, and brought me on his return a poita, or Brahminical thread, phenomenally produced for my benefit, some flowers which had been showered on his head out of space, and a number of stories of the wonders he had seen. The same Yogi paid a second visit to Headquarters on the 9th, and did some phenomena in the Portrait-room of the Library. An orange, some limes, and twenty-five rupees in money
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were apparently showered about us, and my gold pen was transported from my writing-table upstairs to the Picture-room; a plate of broken stones and pottery was also converted into biscuits. But the affair smelt of trickery, as the man insisted on being left alone to “do Bhakti Puja” before we were admitted, and his movements were not at all satisfactory. The money I gave back to him, as I felt that it had been lent him for the trick by one of the persons who accompanied him.
In answer to an article of mine in the March Theosophist, asking who would come forward and help in the Indian work, Mr. C. Kotayya, F.T.S., of Nellore, volunteered his services, and I accepted them and made him a travelling Inspector of Branches.
Dr. Daly at last arrived from Ceylon on 13th April, and Harte, Fawcett, and I talked with him for hours and hours—in fact, almost all the night.
As it was finally decided that he should be put to work in Ceylon in the capacity of my personal representative, I spent a good deal of time with Dr. Daly explaining my plans. Among these was the establishment of a woman’s journal, to be the property of and edited by the ladies of the Ceylon Women's Educational Society, and to have for title Sinhala Stree, or The Sinhalese Woman: the journal was to concern itself with all the domestic, moral, and religious questions which should come into the life of a mother of a family. As Dr. Daly had had much to do with journalism, it was included in my plan that he should have the general supervision of the editorial work of the proposed journal.
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My first idea in inviting him to come to the East and help me was to have him act as sub-editor of the Theosophist, and during my absence do a good part of the more important correspondence. But as he was evidently unfit for this sort of work, and as the Buddhists wanted him in Ceylon, and he was nothing loth, I issued an official Notice assigning him for duty to Ceylon, and giving him a delegation of my supervisory authority. This Notice was dated 25th May, 1890. I heard nothing more about the journal in question for some time, but at last it was reported to me that he had called a meeting of the Women’s Educational Society to broach the idea of the journal, and an issue of the Times of Ceylor in the month of July reported the meeting, and said that the intention was to call it The Sanghamitta; adding that “Colonel Olcott, as Chief Adviser of the Women's Society, has full sympathy with the proposed venture, and has promised his aid”. Considering that I drafted the whole scheme from beginning to end, and added my personal pecuniary guarantee for the expenses of the first year, the above statement reads rather mildly. The fact is that Dr. Daly put forth the scheme as his own, and even went so far as to make the condition that the ownership of the paper should be vested in him, as that of the Theosophist is in me. Of course, when I heard that, I immediately withdrew from the scheme. It is a pity that it could not have been carried out, for I think that it would have been a success, and a very great aid to the cause of female education.
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Excellent news came now from Japan about the development of the Women’s League movement, which had been one of the results of my tour. Mr. M. Oka, the Manager, wrote that it was indeed wonderful to see what the Japanese Buddhists had done within the half-year since my visit, and as a consequence of it. The Ladies’ Association for “producing good mothers, educated sisters, and cultivated daughters,” had, started on a career of surprising prosperity. “We have already induced 2 Princesses, 5 Marchionesses, 5 Countesses, 8 Viscountesses, 7 Baronesses, and many famous Buddhist priests, celebrated scholars, etc., etc., to become honorary members, while ordinary members are increasing in number daily.” He asked .me to become an honorary member, and Dharmapala also. A month later he again wrote with enthusiasm, saying that the membership had increased by 1,000 within the month, and that the Princess Bunshu, aunt of H. M. the Emperor, had accepted the presidency: a journal had been established, and the outlook was most promising.
Another very important proof of the permanent effect of my tour in Japan is given in a letter from one of the most distinguished priests in the Japanese empire, Odsu Letsunen San, Chief Officer of the Western Hongwanji, Kyoto, who said that the fact that I had “greatly aroused the feelings of the people at large was beyond any dispute”. But the striking point of the letter is that it breathes the very spirit of international Buddhistic tolerance and sympathy, to
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arouse which was the object of my mission. Mr. Odsu expresses the hope that the inconsequential differences of sects in and between the Mahayana and Hinayana, the Northern and Southern Schools of Buddhism, “may henceforth be subordinated to the primary object of promoting the spread of Buddhism throughout the world”.
On 28th April a public meeting of the Theosophical Society, for the purpose of introducing Messrs. Fawcett and Daly to the Indians, was held at Pachiappah’s Hall, Madras. An enthusiastic crowd attended, and the speakers were received most warmly.
An atmosphere of unrest had been created at the Headquarters by the unfriendly agitation which followed after the London troubles and the withdrawal of Subba Rao and his two English followers from the Society; one other feature being the fomenting of unjust prejudice, against Ananda by certain persons I who did not like his ways. Up to that time the business of the Theosophist had been conducted in the same large room where that of the Society had been carried on, but it became unpleasant for both him and me, so I fitted up the western riverside bungalow at my own expense and removed the magazine and bookshop there, after the usual purificatory ceremony had been performed by Brahmin priests in the ancient fashion.1 And there it has been
1 So old a mesmerist as I could never be blind to the possible efficacy of any- well conducted ceremony by the priest or lay exorcist of any religion or school of occultism whatsoever, however small might be my belief in the interference of superhuman entities for
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kept until the present day. So disagreeable was the sullen hostility at one time that I actually formed a plan to remove the business to quarters in town. As for casting off the faithful Manager, that never entered my head. As a Master once wrote to Mr. Sinnett, “Ingratitude is not among our vices.”
Our evenings have always been pleasantly spent in dry weather on the pavement-like terrace roof of the main building, where, on moonlit or starlit nights, we have the glory of the heavens to look at and the ocean breezes to cool us. I have visited many lands, but recall no more beautiful view than that upon which the eye rests from that terrace, whether by daylight, starlight, or moonlight. Sometimes we only talk, sometimes one reads and the others listen. Often on such occasions, in the months of the Western winter season, do we speak of our families and friends, especially of our Theosophical colleagues, and wish they could float over to us, as the Arhats are described in the Mahavansa as having done, and see and compare with their own climatic miseries the-delights of our physical surroundings. In those May days of 1890 we used to thus gather together, and the newcomers, with their varied knowledge of literature and men, contributed greatly to the pleasure and profit of the little gatherings. Mr. Harte wrote for the Theosophist a series of witty and comical articles, under the title “Chats on the
the profit of any given faith. So, with benevolent tolerance, I let whoever likes make whatever puja he chooses, from the Brahmin to the Yakkada and the ignorant fishermen of the Adyar river) my friends and protégés.
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Roof” (spelt without the h in the galley-proof of the Hindu compositor), the discontinuance of which was much regretted by some of our readers.
The late Mr. S. E. Gopalacharlu, nephew and adopted son of the regretted Pandit Bhashyacharya, now took up the appointment of Treasurer of the Society, which I had tendered him. What a pity that neither of us foresaw what would be the tragical outcome of the connection!
When the late King of Kandy was deposed by the British army in the year 1817, he and his family were exiled to southern India, and the survivors and their descendants are still there. The present male representative, known as Iyaga Sinhala Raja, or the Prince of Kandy, came at this time in great distress of mind and besought my good offices to get from Government some relief for his miseries. It appears that, as in the case of all these deposed royalties, the original pension from Government goes on diminishing with the death of the chief exile and the natural increase in the families sharing the bounty. As they imagine their royal state forbids them to work for their living like ordinary honest folk, and as their pride leads them to try to keep up some show of the old grandeur, the time comes at last when their respective incomes shrink into bare pittances, and, as this young man told me, the domestic attendants and their families come at every meal time and sit around like dogs waiting for a bone while the impoverished master partakes of his meagre meal. The picture which he drew made me, feel that if I
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should ever have the bad luck to be a vanquished king, I should adopt the old Rajput custom of killing myself and family, rather than go into exile as a pensioner of the victor. This young prince had had the moral courage to set the good example of preparing himself for civil employment under the Indian Government, and was then holding the small appointment of sub-registrar in a taluk of the Tinnevelly District, and was drawing a small salary; but, as he said, this was rather an aggravation than otherwise, for it was barely enough to give himself and family food, and his feelings were always worked upon by seeing these wretched dependants watching every mouthful he ate. He was a nice young fellow, and I gladly helped him with advice as to what he should do.
On the 3rd of June I visited T; Subba Rao at his request and mesmerised him. He was in a dreadful state, his body covered with boils and blisters from crown to sole, as the result of blood poisoning from some mysterious cause. He could not find it in anything that he had eaten' or drunk, and so concluded that it must be due to the malevolent action of elementals, whose animosity he had aroused by some ceremonies he had performed for the benefit of his wife. This was my own impression, for I felt the uncanny influence about him as soon as I approached. Knowing him for the learned occultist that he was, a person highly appreciated by H. P. B:, and the author of a course of superb lectures on the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, I, was inexpressibly' shocked to see him in such a
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physical state. Although my mesmeric treatment of him did not save his life, it gave him so much strength that he was able to be moved to another house, and when I saw him ten days later he seemed convalescent, the improvement dating, as he told me, from the date of the treatment. The change for the better was, however, only temporary, for he died during the night of the 24th of the same month, and was cremated at 9 on the following morning. From members of his family I obtained some interesting particulars. At noon on the 24th he told those about him that his Guru called him to come, he was going to die, he was now about beginning his tapas (mystical invocations), and he did not wish to be disturbed. From that time on he spoke to no one. From the obituary notice which I wrote for the July Theosophist I quote a few paragraphs about this great luminary of Indian contemporary thought:
“Between Subba Rao, H. P. Blavatsky, Damodar, and myself there was a close friendship. He was chiefly instrumental in having us invited to visit Madras in 1882, and in inducing us to choose this city as the permanent Headquarters of the Theosophical Society. Subba Row was in confidential understanding with us about Damodar’s mystical pilgrimage towards the north, and more than a year after the latter crossed into Tibet he wrote him about himself and his plans. Subba Rao told me of this long ago, and reverted to the subject the other day at one of my visits to his sick-bed. A dispute—due in a measure
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to third parties—which widened into a breach, arose between H. P. B. and himself about certain philosophical questions, but to the last he spoke of her, to us and his family, in the old friendly way. . . It is remarked above that T. Subba Rao gave no early signs of possessing mystical knowledge; even Sir T. Madhava Rao did not suspect it in him while he was serving under him at Baroda. I particularly questioned his mother on this point, and she told me that her son first talked metaphysics after forming a connection with the Founders of the Theosophical Society; a connection which began with a correspondence between himself and H. P. B. and Damodar, and became personal after our meeting him, in 1882, at Madras. It was as though a storehouse of occult experience, long forgotten, had been suddenly opened to him; recollections of his last preceeding birth came in upon him; he recognised his Guru, and thenceforward held intercourse with him and other Mahatmas; with some personally at our Headquarters, with others elsewhere and by correspondence. He told his mother that H. P. B. was a great Yogi, and that he had seen many strange phenomena in her presence. His stored-up knowledge of Sanskrit literature came back to him, and his brother-in-law told me that if you would recite any verse of Gîta, Brahma-Sutras, or Upanishads, he could at once tell you whence it was taken and in what connection employed.”
I cannot remember how many similar cases have come under my notice in my visits among our Branches,
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but they are very numerous. Almost invariably one finds that those members who are most active and always to be counted on for unwavering fidelity to the Society declare that they have had this awakening of the Higher Self, and this uncovering or unveiling of the long-hidden block of occult knowledge.
There being an annular eclipse of the sun on the 17th, every orthodox Hindu had to bathe in the sea. Mr. Harte and I went to see the crowd, which was dense and joyous. The surf was splendid, and the scene one of the greatest animation. Imagine several thousand brown-skinned Hindus, scantily clad in their white cloths, jumping about in the waves in pleasant excitement, hailing each other with joyous shouts, leaping over the small surf, sometimes splashing and ducking each other; other thousands standing or sitting on the sands, adding their shouts to the din, and out beyond the bathers the great rollers curling over and booming; overhead, the partly obscured sun, a mystery to the ignorant, and the source of an impurity which must be washed off in the briny water. This took place along the shore-front of Triplicane and Mylapore, villages included within the modern Madras municipality. I have seen nowhere in the world a Marina to match that of Madras, though Sir M. E. Grant-Duff, who had it laid out when he was Governor, tells us that he copied it from one in Italy which had given him great delight. Along the seashore, from the Cooum river to the village of St. Thome, a distance of some four miles, stretches this delightful
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drive and promenade. On the side of the sea, a broad, gravelled sidewalk with stone curbing, then a broad, noble avenue with the road-surface as smooth as a floor, and inside that a tanned bridlepath for equestrians. The Marina is the sundown resort of the Madrasis, who come there in their carriages and enjoy the delicious sea breeze which almost invariably comes in from the ocean, bringing life and refreshment on its wings.
I was busy in those days revising the Buddhist Catechism for one of its many new editions, amending and adding to the contents, as its hold on the Sinhalese people grew stronger, and I felt that it was getting beyond the power of reactionary priests to prevent my telling the people what ought to be expected of the wearers of the yellow robes. When I published the 33rd edition, three years ago, I supposed that I should have no more amendments to make, but now that the 34th edition will soon be called for, I find that further improvements are possible. My desire is to leave it at my death a perfect compendium of the contents of Southern Buddhism.
On the 27th (June) I had a visitor from Madura, from whom I had the satisfaction of hearing that three of the cases of paralysis which I had psychopathically treated in 1883 had proved permanent cures, and that after an interval of seven years my patients were as well as they had ever been in their lives. One of these cases I remembered very well, and have described it in my narrative of my tour of 1883. It was that of
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a young man who came to me one day as I was about sitting down to my meal, and asked me to cure his paralysed left hand, which was then useless to him. I took the hand between my two, and, after holding it a couple of minutes and reciting a certain mantram which I used, made sweeping passes from the shoulder to the finger-tips, some additional ones around the wrist and hand, and, with a final pass, declared the cure completed. Immediately the patient felt in his hand a rush of blood; from having been without feeling, it suddenly grew supersensitive; he could move his fingers and wrist naturally, and he ran away home to tell the wonder. Then I went on with my dinner.
In the first week of July I went to Trichinopoly to preside at a public meeting on behalf of the Hindu Nobles’ College, and while there gave two lectures and a brief address at the famous Temple of Ganesha, on the summit of the great rock, one of the most picturesque landmarks conceivable, and seen by every railway traveller passing through southern India.
The reader will easily understand the stress and strain that was put upon me at this time by the eccentric behavior of H. P. B., in herself interfering, and allowing her friends to interfere, in the practical management of Society affairs, a department which, as Master K. H. had distinctly written, was my own special province. In a previous chapter I have mentioned her revolutionary threat that she would break up the Society unless I endorsed their action in reorganising the movement in Europe with her as permanent
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President; but to make the thing perfectly clear, since the case embodies a most vital principle, I will enter a little into detail On the 8th of July I received her letter, backed by some of her friends, demanding the above-mentioned change, and accompanying it with the alternative threat. On the 29th of the same month I received an official copy of a Resolution which had been passed by the then existing British Section, without having reported their wishes to me or asked my consent. The Theosophist for August had been printed, except the Supplement, which was then on the press. On receipt of the interesting revolutionary document in question, I drove to our printers, stopped the press order, destroyed 350 copies of the Supplement already run off, and inserted this Executive Notice:
“The following Resolution of the Council of the British Section of July 2nd, 1890, is hereby cancelled, as contrary, to the Constitution and By-laws of the Theosophical Society, a usurpation of the Presidential prerogative, and beyond the competence of any Section or other fragment of the Society to enact.
“ADYAR, 29th July, 1890. H. S. OLCOTT, P.T.S.”
“Extract from Minutes of the British Section, T.S.
“At a meeting of the Council of the British Section held on July 2nd, 1890, at 17 Lansdowne Road, London, W., summoned for the special purpose of considering the advisability of vesting permanently the Presidential authority for the whole of Europe in
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H. P. Blavatsky, it was unanimously resolved that this should be done from this date, and that the British Section should unite herewith with the Continental Lodges for this purpose, and that the Headquarters of the Society in London should in future be the Headquarters for all administrative purposes for the whole of Europe.
“W. R. OLD,
Who wonders that, after the note in my Diary mentioning what I had done, I added: “That may mean a split, but it does- not mean that I shall be a slave.” What charming autocracy! Not one word about the provisions of the Society's Constitution, the lawful methods to follow, or the necessity of referring the matter to the President; nothing but just revolt. It only made my own duty the plainer. I must be true to my trust, even though it had to come to a break between H. P. B. and myself; for though we had to be loyal to each other, we both owed a superior loyalty to Those who had chosen us out of our generation to do this mighty service to mankind as part of Their comprehensive scheme.
I leave this on record for the benefit of my successor, that he may know that, if he would be the real guardian and father of the Society, he must be ready, at a crisis like this, to act so as to defend its Constitution at all costs. But this will require more than mere courage—that far greater thing, faith; faith in the inevitable
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success of one's cause, faith in the correctness of one's judgment; above all, faith that, under the guidance of the Great Ones, no petty cabals, conspiracies, or unwise schemes can possibly stand against the divine impulse that gathers behind one whose only ambition is the performance of duty.