OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE PARLIAMENT OF RELIGIONS
WHEN it became known, in 1892, that I wished to retire from office, five offers were made me by kind friends to give me a home and support during the rest of my life; among them the Rajah of Pakur, then a stranger to me personally. From Bhagalpur my itinerary of the present tour took me to Rajmahal, where I stopped for the day and lectured, and thence to Pakur, this gentleman’s place, where I was cordially welcomed by him and his Dewan, Babu Patiram. I slept at the station and lectured at the Rajah’s High School, but I had so many engagements booked that I had to hurry away at 5.30 a.m., on the 27th (February), to Berhampur (Bengal), the seat of that once super-excellent Branch, led by Babu Dina Nath Ganguly, Government Pleader, and his colleagues, Satcori Mukerji, Kali Prasanna Mukerji, Nafar Das Roy, and others whose names are so well known in our Indian history and who got their inspiration originally, in 1882, from their then leader, the late Nobin Krishna Bannerji, one of the strongest and most devoted men
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we ever had in the Society. On the present occasion I was to preside at the celebration of the Eleventh Anniversary of the Branch, an event to which I looked forward with pleasure. It is one of the delights of one’s inspection tours to meet with Branches which are full of enthusiasm and anxious to do their uttermost to help on the movement; this compensates for the depression one feels when in contact with other groups whose interest is intellectual and fervor not yet aroused.
In India, it is, as I have often remarked, wonderful how much of the power for good and usefulness in a Branch depends upon having one strong man for leader. Let him be ordered by Government to another station and the ashes of indifference soon cover over the live coals of activity which his example had kept flaming. Only this very morning I have read in a Madras paper that the “Theosophical enthusiasm” in a certain large town was dying out since the departure of the gentleman who had headed the group at its formation and had led it from good deed to good deed until now, making it one of the most influential centres in the Empire. This is unpleasant and yet nothing to be surprised at, since human society, the world over, is composed of masses and classes led by a few strong personalities. The more one mixes with public men and parties the plainer is this fact perceived. Our own movement has afforded ample proofs, and of a character that really were surprising: the Judge secession, for instance, a movement based on no more substantial foundation than falsehood and vulgar
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ambition. As for the phase it now presents, that is beyond words to express; a fall into intellectual slavery that must be seen to be believed—and of people who were in search of the Higher Self, of that supreme wisdom which makes man a God in power after self-development, and the condition of which latter is the bursting of all trammels of servility, the rising inch by inch by struggle and self-reliance. Can the reader see, then, what it means to become an Adept, or wonder that such an evolution is so rare that the existence of such beings is to most men a mere intellectual surmise? Let us, then, prize those who show any quality of leadership in this great sociological movement, and make the most of them while they are fit and ready to work.
Berhampur was reached at 1 p.m., on the same day, and a most kind and brotherly address was read to me. The Branch public function came off at 7.30 the next morning, and Mr. Edge rejoining me during the day, we both lectured at the Theatre Hall in the evening to a large audience of both nationalities. The next morning I opened the T.S. Library and Reading Room and had the pleasure of announcing that that philanthrophic lady, Maharani Surnomoyee, whom the late Queen Victoria so much respected and who was affectionately called by her compatriots the Lady Burdett Coutts of India, had given Rs. 300 towards the Library. My lecture that evening was on “Occultism, True and False” and, whether drawn by curiosity or not, to know something about that subject or only to see me, I cannot say, but there was scarcely a resident European
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absent. My visit ended with this function and on the next morning Mr. Edge and I left for Calcutta, where Dr. Salzer had his usual welcome ready for us.
A strong fever attacked Mr. Edge and made him very ill during the next few days, but was finally broken up by Dr. Salzer with the 30th Dilution of Natrum Muriaticum (sea salt), in which the proportion of matter is indicated by 1 as the numerator, and about 100 ciphers as denominator! Not much from the allopathic point of view, yet it cured him, and what more could a bolus as large as an egg accomplish?
The Doctor and I bought tickets to a double wedding of Salvationists—“Captains” Satgun (Claydon) and Bala Bati (Bellamy) and Atmaran (Mottershead) and Nur Jahan (Knight), to be united in Salvation Matrimony under the Army Flag, Thursday, March 9th, at 7 p.m. in the Bow Bazaar Barracks. Four “Captains”—two of each sex—married by “Staff Captain Santoshan,” with the “United Staff and Field Force to the front”. This was the eccentric, not to say crazy, aspect of the affair, and no wonder it drew a packed and paying audience. But Dr. Salzer and I both lost sight of the outward farce and came away deeply impressed with the deadly earnestness of these people. Let anybody jeer as he may at the Salvationists, yet it cannot be denied that they are zealous, bold, and self-sacrificing to a degree in their work. I, for my part, have always respected them for their motives, and regard the Salvation Army as one of the most powerful agencies of our times for the restraint
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of vice and the reformation of the submerged criminal class in Western lands. India affords them no such field for their exertions, for criminality and vice do not prevail there to the same extent. A nation evolved in such an intellectual atmosphere as the Hindus would not be satisfied with such branlike religious teaching as the Salvationists impart.
A very large and demonstrative audience listened to my lecture at Albert Hall on “Occultism,” on the evening of the 11th, and the next day I sailed for Madras in the British India steamer “Malda”. I found on board, the Surgeon, Pilot, Purser, Mail Agent, and other officers of the French steamer “Niemen” on which Mr. Keightley and Mr. Cooper-Oakley had been wrecked off the coast of Ceylon shortly before. From all I could gather from them, I did not derive a very respectful impression as to the management of the vessel at the time of the catastrophe: I was glad not to have been aboard.
From Calcutta to Madras is a run of less than four days, so we reached home on the 16th at daybreak, and my first task was to hunt through our old papers for historical bits for OLD DIARY LEAVES. Then, by way of a change, came an attack of gout in my feet, a legacy left me by some ancestor who probably was more fond of old claret and burgundy than of vegetable food. But this did not hinder our beginning again the discussion of the Judge affair. Mr. Edge, who had been detained by illness, came on by another steamer five days later. I sent him to Poona
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to lay the evidence before our respected colleague, Judge Khandalavala, and take his opinion, which was that the case should be proceeded with.
At the last Convention Mr. Walter G. Old gave some very instructive experiments in thought-reading, and now again, in the presence of fifty or sixty visitors, he made others. In his case it did not seem like mere “muscle-reading,” but the perception of the agent’s thought. Writers upon these interesting psychical experiments have not made the mention they deserve of a series of demonstrations of the thought-reading power which were made at Yale University in the year 1873 or 1874 in the Sheffield School of Science, under the direction of Professor W.H. Brewer. The percipient was a young American named Brown, whom I met and once tested myself. It must be confessed that one of his feats excels any that have since been recorded by experimenters. At the Sheffield School a wire was carried from the cellar to the amphitheatre in the top story, with enough slack there to reach across the room. The thought transmitter, i.e., the person whose thought was to be read, was stationed at the cellar end of the wire and Brown held the other end upstairs. The gentleman formulated the thought, if my memory serves me—it is now nearly thirty years ago—that Brown should make a mark on a blackboard and then lay the piece of chalk in a certain place. Under the observation of the committee of scientists the latter held the end of the wire against his forehead, was seized with a nervous shivering, ran hither and thither, still
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holding the wire, and finally went to the blackboard and did what was mentally ordered by the “agent”. Where is the muscle-reading here? Professor Brewer published a report of the experiments at the time and it was widely copied and commented upon in the press. Of course, even this wonderful test is far less important than the multitudinous feats of thought-transference that are recorded in the literature of clairvoyance, but for materialistic sceptics it is more satisfactory as having been made in a School of Science under the direction of University Professors, and with the substantial wire as a pièce de conviction. It is a comfort to such to have a wire to hang one’s ideas upon to ripen in the sun of common sense! Yet, what had the wire to do with the thing after all; is metallic wire a conductor of thought? What would Marconi say?
On the 28th I had a letter from Mrs. Besant telling me that she would be able to come out to India, which of course gave us all great pleasure.
A chance seemed to offer itself at this time to acquire the Mahâ-Bodhi stupa and some 3,000 bîgas of adjacent land by purchase from the Tikari Rajah’s estate, the presumed owners of the fee. The Honorary Pleader of the Mahâ-Bodhi Society at Gaya, Mr. Nund Kissore Lal, conveyed this idea to me in a telegram and I at once communicated with Dharmapala. A wealthy Burman was said to be ready to give Rs. 1,00,000 if the shrine could be bought—so I was told by Dharmapala. Private negotiations were accordingly entered into and all was proceeding peacefully until the Government
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of Bengal, or in other words, Mr. Cotton—whose son was engaged as counsel for the stubborn Mahant of Buddha Gaya—came to know of it. The next thing we learnt was that a peremptory order had been given to the European Manager of the Tikari Raj under the Court of Wards, that he should not sell the piece of property in question to the Buddhists on any consideration. This seemed to me an impertinent and unjust meddling in a perfectly blameless business transaction, and I could not help suspecting the motive which prompted the order. However, that chance was lost and the monstrous injustice of debarring the Buddhists of the world from owning their most sacred and most famous shrine was continued. Worse than that, the Saivite Mahant had allowed Buddhist images to be defiled, and had smeared some with forehead caste-marks as though they were Hindu idols: this after the Buddhists began to bestir themselves to regain possession of the shrine and to cover an empty pretext that Buddha Gaya was a Hindu place of worship. As I went farther and farther in the case I became thoroughly disgusted with the view it presented of religious hypocrisy masking private greed.
Meanwhile both Dharmapala and his legal adviser wrote so encouragingly that I determined to go over to Burma and see what the chances were for securing the purchase money. On reaching Rangoon, on the 11th of April, it did not take long to convince me that nothing was to be hoped for in that matter: the whole body of middlemen—Burmese merchants—in the rice
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trade were just then in the grip of a European syndicate, and were in a way to lose all their savings. So, after stopping with our dear friend Mr. Moung Hpo Myin twenty-four hours, I sailed for Calcutta in the S.S. “Canara”. After a three days’ run, I got there on the 15th and with Dharmapala went over the whole Mahâ-Bodhi question. Thence, by train the next evening to Bankipur, where our Gaya attorney met me at the house of Mr. Guruprasad Sen, the great lawyer, editor, and politician. Together we threshed out the case, agreed upon a course, and on the following day I returned to Calcutta. That same night I slept on board the P. & O. S.S. “Bengal,” which left for Madras early on the following morning. I reached home on the 25th after an absence of only sixteen days.
When we first settled at Adyar some of our leading Indian members urged us to buy the next estate to us on the western side, so as to have residential conveniences for friends when they came to town. It was a large mansion, originally the residence of Lord Elphinstone when he was Governor of Madras, and around it a park of over an hundred acres. The price asked was very moderate and the money could then have been raised, for that was in the days when the worship of H. P. B. was active and there was always the off-chance of seeing phenomena. But the scheme did not recommend itself to my practical instinct and I refused. The property lay empty for some more years, but at last was bought by the Brotherhood of St. Patrick and made into an orphanage for boys, since which time the
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work has been carried on usefully and philanthrophically. Some of the Celtic Fathers came to see us shortly after my return from tour, and as I was American and could talk the brogue and sing Irish songs, we became great friends. From time to time the priests and their advanced pupils come over to read in the Western Section of the Library and are always welcome: How marked the contrast with most of the Protestant missionaries in our neighborhood who seem to prefer to keep aloof and silently condemn us instead of showing any good will. The fact is, they are bitterly disappointed over the failure of the Scottish Mission to crush us by the help of the odoriferous Coulombs, and it is galling, no doubt, to see the Society growing stronger and stronger and more and more influential Poor things! “O, Colonel Olcott,” said a nice Protestant missionary lady to me once, after I had spent an evening with her and her husband, “why do they say such horrid things about you?” “Do they?” I answered. “Yes they do, and I think it a shame.” “What do they say?” I asked. “O, I dare not tell you, but they are horrid.” “Well,” said I, “do you believe them, now that you have seen me?” “Certainly not in the least.” “Then why worry yourself over childish slanders that do not convince even you, one of their own party? Let them go on; it amuses them, and I don’t mind in the least.”
Our second anniversary of White Lotus Day (May 8th) was celebrated at Adyar, Mr. Old and I delivering addresses and extracts being read as usual from the
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Gita and The Light of Asia. Mr. Old then went up to my “Gulistan” cottage for a change, and I devoted the greater part of my time to an over-hauling of.old documents in search of material for my DIARY LEAVES.
On the 15th of May I went to the Bank of Madras with Mr. V. Cooppooswamy Iyer, one of my co-trustees, and transferred the Government securities in my name to our joint account, thus relieving my mind of a great burden, for now in case of my death, the interests of the Society could not be compromised.
From New York I received by that week’s foreign mail a draft for £38 for author’s copyright on Isis Unveiled, the first payment that either H. P. B. or I had had since leaving New York, though several editions had been issued. The money came just in good time for me to help our colleagues at Madrid, Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam, and in India to meet some of their heavy expenses for Theosophical publications. I may add that it was also the last payment, for since that time not another dollar has been sent me by our very honorable publisher! I mention this for the information of colleagues to whom I would have gladly given further aid.
In the course of my writing of OLD DIARY LEAVES I had now come to the problem of the authorship of Isis Unveiled, and was greatly puzzled to arrive at the reasonable explanation. There were so many points to consider that I gave them much auxious thought. What my conclusions were may be read in Chapters XII, XIII, and XIV, of the first volume, and the case
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is so thoroughly argued that I must refer the reader to the book itself. One thing is certain, so far as I am concerned, I got my Theosophical education while helping her to write it.
As the World’s Parliament of Religions was to meet at Chicago in the following September, and as it had been arranged that our Society should participate in it, I deputed the Vice-President, Mr. Judge, to represent me officially, and appointed Mrs. Besant special delegate to speak there on behalf of the whole Society. How great a success it was for us and how powerfully it stimulated public interest in our views will be recollected by all our older members. Theosophy was presented most thoroughly both before the whole Parliament, an audience of 3,000 people, and at meetings of our own for the holding of which special halls were kindly given us. A profound impression was created by the discourses of Professor G. N. Chakravarti and Mrs. Besant, who is said to have risen to unusual heights of eloquence, so exhilarating were the influences of the gathering. Besides these who represented our Society especially, Messrs. Vivekananda, V. R. Gandhi, Dharmapala, representatives of the Hindu Vedanta, Jainism, and Buddhism respectively, captivated the public, who had only heard of the Indian people through the malicious reports of interested missionaries, and were now astounded to see before them and hear men who represented the ideal of spirituality and human perfectibility as taught in their respective sacred writings. Said one Chicago editor: “We have been
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for years spending millions of dollars in sending missionaries to convert these men, and have had very little success; they have sent over a few men, and have converted everybody.” From a report which Mrs. Besant made to a London paper I cite the following concluding paragraph:
“The Theosophical Congress, as said one of the leading Chicago papers, was a rival of the Parliament itself in the interest it excited. The plan of the Department of Religion was a good one. Each body strong enough to hold one, had a congress of its own on one or more days, fixed by the committee; in addition to this, chosen speakers occupied one session in presenting the views of their body to the Parliament. The Theosophical Society was given two days for its congress, the evening of the second day being devoted to the presentation of Theosophy before the Parliament. The hall originally granted to it seated about 300 people, but it was so densely packed before the first meeting opened, that the managers gave us another hall seating about 1,200. This was promptly filled, and at each succeeding session the crowds grew, filling passages and packing every inch of room, until at our fifth session two adjoining halls were offered us, and we held two overflow meetings in addition to our regular session. The sixth session was the presentation of Theosophy to the Parliament, and some 3,000 people gathered in a huge hall. So intense was the interest shown that the management most generously offered us the use of the great hall for an additional meeting
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on the following night, and it was packed with eager listeners. In addition to the Indian and Sinhalese delegates above named, the Theosophical Society sent from its European Section Annie Besant, Miss F. H. Müller, and Mrs. Cooper-Oakley; the American Section was represented by its General Secretary, Wm. Q. Judge, Dr. Jerome Anderson of San Francisco, Mr. George E. Wright and Mrs. Thirds, of Chicago, and Claude F. Wright of New York; the Australasian Branches delegated Mrs. Cooper-Oakley, who had been working among them for ten months, and who came direct from Australia to Chicago. Between the interest excited by the speakers and the far deeper interest excited by the subjects dealt with, the meetings were rendered thus successful.”