OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
MAX MÜLLER ON ESOTERICISM
IN the compilation of my DIARY LEAVES I have now come to the point where I must discuss the date of the first teaching by H. P. B. of the theory of reincarnation. In the first volume of my O. D. L. I enter fully into the subject (vide Chapter XVII), citing passage after passage from her writings and mine to show that we—I, at any rate—were not then in possession of this most important key to the whole system of Eastern philosophy. Of course, it is no concern of mine why we were not taught it, and when I say “we” I mean myself and the personality whose physical body was functioning as the chief amanuensis of the Great Teachers. I do not believe that the mystery of the incongruity of the New York teachings of 1875 and the later Indian ones can be explained, at least to the satisfaction of those who attack the problem from the standing point of literary criticism: to those who have the power to lift the veil and study the question from the inside, this difficulty vanishes. But students limited to the physical plane, cannot be expected to
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receive as final the explanations of advanced pupils of the White Lodge. The conclusion to which I long ago came was that it must just be left as a mystery.
On the 7th of June documentary proof came to me that a certain “Dr. A. Martinez” who headed the newly formed group at Buenos Aires, and procured from me a charter under false representations, was the expelled “Dr. Alberto de Das” of Spain. His South American pseudonym was in reality the surname of a respected lady medium and clairvoyant whom he had got under his hypnotic influence. In our March number [Fourth Series] I give some interesting details about this picturesque confidence-man, whose latest public appearance has been at Washington, D.C., under the name of “Dr. Sarak”; and by the last American mail I have received the information that he had actually persuaded a credulous group—including two or three of our own members—to pay him $500 for a charter from the “Esoteric Lodge of the Grand Masters of Thibet”! To what absurd lengths will not human credulity go. My correspondent writes that the exposé in the March Theosophist had “blocked Count Sarak’s little game. The little company had already been initiated. . . in a back room where Sarak had set up an altar, and ranged around the pictures of his masters (a villainous set of faces) before which he performed in a white robe.”
The next step taken by this person was an astral attack on a certain lady who had taken part in exposing him. Our correspondent says: “She had a severe
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blow or shock in the region of the solar plexus, and she would not go to bed alone at night, so a companion who was quite psychic stayed all night with her, and this lady plainly saw Sarak’s astral attempting to do some devilment. For a day and night Miss—fought off his influence.” Of course these statements must be taken for what they may be worth, but it is certainly true that this is the third or fourth case reported to me by the victims, where ladies have been persecuted and terrorised on the astral plane by men who had the power to function there and whose assaults were prompted by a spirit of revenge or lust. Some strange confidences are made to me in my travels and I feel it my duty to warn the reader that such things are possible, and that their safety can only be assured by their summoning to their aid all the will-power of which they are capable, on the lines laid down by Mr. Leadbeater, Mrs. Besant, and all other experts in these subjects. If my readers care to see what horrible risks are run by those who rashly cross the threshold between the physical and the astral planes, let them read the literature ready to hand, including the works of Des Mousseaux, Sinistrari, Eliphas Levi, Francis Barrett, H. P. B., and our own more recent writers. During my long foreign tours of 1900 and 1901 three cases of such combats on the astral plane came to my notice, and quite recently one of my dearest and most valued lady colleagues has reported to me her own similar experiences.
It appears from my Diary for 1893, that my time was fully taken up during the greater part of the
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month of June, in hunting up materials for this historical retrospect. On the 21st of that month however I had word from Dharmapala to the effect that “two Burmese millionaires” would “advance the Rs. 1,00,000 to buy Buddha Gaya”; but my recent inquiries at Rangoon inclined me to receive the assertion with several grains of salt. My caution was warranted for a month later, I received from Moulmein, one of these two rich Buddhists an offer of the Rs. 1,00,000, if I “would buy the property for him,” that is, in his name and not that of the Mahâ-Bodhi Society.
The famous letter of the late Professor Max Müller denying the existence of any esoteric meaning in either the Buddhistic or Brahmanic Scriptures was received by me at Adyar on the 4th of July of the year under review. I have referred to it more than once in my writings but, now that the eminent Orientalist is dead and gone and can write no more on the subject, I think I had better quote from his letter (written at Constantinople, June 10th, 1893) his unmistakable condemnation of the views of all believers in an esoteric interpretation. Professor Müller says:
“Now with regard to your letter,—I can quite understand your feelings for Madame Blavatsky, particularly after her death, and I have tried to say, as little as possible of what might pain her friends. But I felt it my duty to protest against what seemed to me a lowering of a beautiful religion. Her name and prestige were doing, I thought, real mischief among people who were honestly striving for higher
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religious views, and who were quite willing to recognise all that was true and beautiful and good in other religions. Madame Blavatsky seems to me to have had the same temperament, but she was either deceived by others or carried away by her own imaginations.
“There is nothing esoteric in Buddhism—Buddhism is the very opposite of esoteric—it is a religion for the people at large, for the poor, the suffering, the ill-treated. Buddha protests against the very idea of keeping anything secret. There was much more of that esoteric teaching in Brahmanism. There was the system of caste, which deprived the Œhudras, at least, of many religious privileges. But I do say that even in Brahmanism there is no such thing as an esoteric interpretation of the Shâstras. The Shâstras had but one meaning, and all who had been properly prepared by education, had access to them. There are some artificial poems which are so written as to admit of two interpretations. They are very wonderful, but they have nothing to do with philosophical doctrines. Again there are, as among the Sufis, erotic poems in Sanskrit which are explained as celebrating the love and union between the soul and God. But all this is perfectly well known. There is no mystery about it. Again, it is true that the Vedânta Sutras, for instance, admit of an Advaita and a Visishtadvaita interpretation, and the same applies to the Upanishads. But all this is open and nothing is kept secret from those who have passed through the proper education. Besides, in our time all MSS. are accessible, and the most important
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Shâstras1 and their commentaries have been printed; Where is there room for Esoteric doctrine? No living Pandit or Mahatma knows more than what is contained in MSS. though I am quite aware that their oral instruction, which they freely extend even to Europeans, is very helpful towards a right understanding of the Sanskrit texts and commentaries. . . You can really do a good work if you can persuade the people in India, whether Buddhists or Brahmans, to study their own religion in a reverent spirit, to keep what is good and to discard openly what is effete, antiquated, and objectionable. If all religions would do that, we should soon have but one religion, and we should no longer call each other unbelievers and Giaurs and commit atrocities like those in Bulgaria in which the Christians were quite as bad as the Mahomedans. Nothing can be more useful than the publication of the old texts—critically edited and trustworthy translations. My ‘Sacred Books of the East’ have opened people’s eyes in many places. I found that at Constantinople. I am sorry to say I cannot continue the series. We
1The word Shâstra must surely not be taken as that only which is printed or written down, but must include whatever instruction the Guru gives his disciple. Every sacred book of India is but a certain block of religious teaching supplemented by the verbal interpretations, commentaries, and additions imparted by the Guru. Is it not true that one is constantly meeting with blanks in the texts where the reader is referred to the teacher for explanations, which cannot be made public, but can be imparted only to those who “deserve” and have made themselves fit for it? Professor Müller himself admits that these teachings are very helpful towards a right understanding of the Sanskrit texts and commentaries; but his error is in supposing that they are “freely extended even to Europeans”.
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have lost £3,000, and neither the University of Oxford nor the India Office will vote more money, still, someone will come hereafter and continue the work.”
I think the best thing to be done is to leave Professor Müller’s views on Esotericism to be dealt with by the “living Pandits” themselves. We can only regret that the illustrious Western scholar should never have been able to visit India and to discuss this important question with able Indian Pandits who know that man’s consciousness is able to grasp the ultimate truth by functioning on a plane higher than that of which the dictionary, grammar, and encyclopaedia are milestones by which a man’s progress towards the attainment of knowledge is marked.
Mr. Judge and his party were guilty of a bitter injustice towards Mrs. Besant, and in his case ,was added the sin of a base ingratitude. No one who had ever heard her defending absent friends who have been maligned, can have the slightest doubt that, with her, loyalty to those she loves or respects is an over mastering impulse. I have heard her publicly defending H. P. B. when she rose to great heights of eloquence. Being herself trustful and scrupulously honest, she did not believe it possible that Mr. Judge was not the mouthpiece of the Masters that he claimed to be, but, on the contrary, was deceiving her and others with cold cynicism. I recall these incidents when reading my Diary entry of July 25th (1893) where I note the receipt by that day’s foreign mail of angry letters from her to Messrs. Edge and Old, formerly members of the London
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staff, but then transferred to that of Adyar. These young men had taken exception to some puerile views and misstatements of fact recently made by Mr. Judge, and their letters to friends in London had caused a great sensation and aroused in the minds of the Judge party the bitterest resentment. Mrs. Besant was then at Home, and under the influence of the pervading sentiment among her friends—who, at the same time were Judge’s—she read the letters in question; to myself she wrote in plaintive terms about their alleged defection and said that America would cut off my money-supplies if I kept the young men here. It was a sorry business that such a noble soul as she should have wasted sympathy over so ignoble a person. Messrs. Old and Edge do not seem to have been much influenced by her letters, for in the Theosophist for July of that year will be found their answer to and criticism upon Mr. Judge and his utterances, in an article entitled “Theosophic Freethought,” which will repay the trouble of perusal.
My Diary now brings us to one of the most painful episodes in our Society’s history, the defalcations and suicide of the then Treasurer and Recording Secretary, Mr. S. E. Gopalacharlu. It is not a pleasant thing to dwell on, and yet, being historical, I cannot gloss it over. He was a contributor to the Theosophist and to a few foreign periodicals, a member of the E.S.T., and while being quite an exemplary character, in the estimation of the public, he also enjoyed the confidence and esteem of his Theosophic colleagues. As Treasurer of the Society he had in his charge the money belonging
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to several funds, the contents of which were kept in the Government Postal Savings Bank, and the pass-books were in his official name. Among these funds was one called the H. P. B. Memorial, containing nearly 4,000 rupees. At a certain time it was decided that this money should be transferred to the Indian Section account, and he was notified accordingly. Instead of handing over the money, however, he committed suicide and a subsequent examination of his books showed that he had been systematically defrauding the Society. To myself, as President; he had rendered false accounts and shown the pass-books of the Savings Bank in which the entries were falsified. In this way he had also deceived the official auditors who made the usual financial report to the Convention of 1892. His colleagues had been also deceived about his private life which we found had been the opposite of blameless. Besides robbing us he had obtained his wife’s valuable jewels by false representations, had pawned them, and spent the proceeds in dissipation. He had also embezzled and spent the hard-earned savings of a relative; In a written statement discovered after his death, he declared his intention to kill himself with a dose of poison obtained at a designated shop, and wished us all to understand that he had deliberately cheated and robbed us, to procure the means of enjoying life as much as possible while the chance lasted. A more cynical, heartless and selfish dying message could not be imagined. His defalcations amounted to nearly Rs. 9,000, a very small sum in dollars and pounds but a large one to
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poor people like ourselves. On hearing the news Mrs. Besant, then in London, showed her characteristic unselfishness. She had just received a small legacy of £ 50, and this sum she cabled me. Miss Etta Müller, Mr. Keightley, and other generous friends started a subscription and ultimately the losses were all made good. Some of that class of people who are always wise after the fact, and always saying what ought to have been done, ventured the opinion that if we had only suspected Gopalacharlu’s honesty we might have adopted precautions to prevent his stealing our money. But that is the very point, we did not suspect him; quite the contrary, for, as above stated, there was nothing in his life or conversation to make us withhold our full confidence. How often the thing happens that a man who has been a shining light of probity, perhaps a friend or relative of our own, suddenly gives way to a stress of temptation at a critical moment and enters the downward path. In my annual address at that year’s Convention I said:
“Every year we read in the press of all civilised countries, of similar and far worse offences by trusted officers of the soundest banks and the most carefully managed public companies and private business houses. The fact is that the world’s vast business is transacted on the basis of mutual confidence. In Sir Henry Maine’s Ancient Laws, pp. 306-307, we read that, as regards the multiplicity and astounding complication and success of great frauds,
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“‘The very character of these frauds shows clearly that before they became possible the moral obligations of which they are the breach, must have been more than proportionally developed. It is the confidence reposed in and deserved by the many which affords facilities for the bad faith of the few, so that, if colossal examples of dishonesty occur, there is no surer conclusion than that scrupulous honesty is displayed in the average of the transactions which, in the particular case, have supplied the delinquent with his opportunity.’”
There is no reason in the world why the Theosophical Society should expect to be more exempt than any other, from these misfortunes. Those of us who are its managers have just to do the best we can to protect its interests and then let the law of Karma work out its effects.
I will mention an incident of this period, not because of its own special importance, but for the sake of its general bearing upon the subject of the secessions and periods of unrest through which we have passed at different times. In the year under review, two of our Parsi members of Bombay, who had been among our most active men, suddenly seceded and began a course of bitter newspaper attacks upon the Society. As they had been until then enthusiastic members, both of the society and of the Eastern School, their conduct was quite incomprehensible. But on the 14th of September I received from a mutual friend at Bombay, a letter written him by one of the seceders, saying that the reports and scheming of a certain person, a crony of
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the late Treasurer, had driven him and his friend out of the Society. Now the point to observe is this: that there is nothing whatever in the management of the Society, the prosecution of its work or its treatment of its members, that affords a valid excuse for deserting and denouncing us; such faults and mistakes as there may be among the officers, are venial and as a general rule our work is well done and unselfishly. But in this body of ours as in all others in history there are a few individuals moved by ambition or personal spite, who plot to create trouble for the pleasure it gives them to make their neighbors suffer: jealousy and envy are most commonly the active motives. What happened in this Bombay case has happened in others, and when one comes to study to the bottom the great Judge secession, one finds these passions, with vanity added; the springs of conduct.