OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE CONVENTION OF 1893
HYDERABAD, the Territory of the Nizam, is the largest of the Protected States of India, nominally enjoying an independent sovereignty and having about as much as an Arab horse who is ridden on a curb bit. Its ruler, the Nizam, a title which means “Regulator of the State,” like all the other Protected Princes whose ancestors were kings, is allowed to do as he pleases until he pleases to do something which seems to jeopardise the welfare of his subjects and the stability of his State, when the military curb is tightened a little and the ruler is made to understand the difference between “protection” and “independence”. The territory covers an area of nearly 100,000 square miles, with a population of about ten or twelve millions. The government is Muhammedan but the majority of the people are Hindus. It was erected into a separate kingdom in 1512 by a Turkish adventurer, and in 1687 became a province of the Mogul empire. After passing through many exciting and military changes, in which, at times, the English and French participated, peace and
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stability were finally secured by the military power of the East India Company, and since 1857 the State has been under the protection of the British authorities. The capital town, Hyderabad, to which our tour had now brought us, has a population of about a quarter of a million, mostly Muhammedans. Its walled area is crowded with buildings, among them some fine mosques and palaces surrounded by gardens of remarkable beauty. In the neighborhood there are large water tanks, one of which is twenty miles in circuit. Many of the streets are narrow and crowded with little shops in which, after the Eastern fashion, amidst squalid surroundings, are displayed goods of the richest and often the most artistic description. The Nizam maintains a small standing army, some of the regiments composed of Arabs and other wild warlike people, looking as though they had just been transplanted from the desert: a parade of these troops with the accompaniment of camels and elephants in the procession, is a most picturesque spectacle. I have been in no town in India which shows so little trace of a veneering of Western civilisation over Eastern picturesqueness: at the same time I have seen none in which I should care less to reside, for one can feel in its atmosphere the preponderance of influences of the physical, over those of the spiritual plane.
On the morning after our arrival Mr. Dorabji drove with us through the city and took us to pay our respects to that good lady, the daughter of the late P. Iyaloo Naidu, whom the Society has every reason to hold in
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honor. When I made the contract for the purchase of the Adyar property, it was Mr. Iyaloo Naidu who bought it of the former owner for me, and his widowed daughter who generously loaned a part of the purchase-money on the most liberal terms as regards interest. At 5.45 p.m. Mrs. Besant gave her first lecture at a public hall called Bashir Bagh, on “Theosophy versus Modern Science”. Her audience was mainly composed of Hindus and Europeans, Muhammedans as a rule not caring for lectures of our sort, nor being much in the habit of general reading. The next morning was devoted to the reception of visitors and to our usual desk-work. In the afternoon the lecture on “Death and Life after Death” was given at Secunderabad, the European civil and military suburb of the capital. The British Resident, Mr. Plowden, and the commanding Major-General Stewart, with their respective families, and many more Europeans, were present in the very large audience. The speaker treated her subject eclectically and with wise moderation, giving great satisfaction to all. On the next morning, Thursday, December 13th, we three—Mrs. Besant, Countess Wachtmeister, and myself—were photographed together and subsequently with a group of our local colleagues, in the palace garden. A T. S. meeting was held later and various candidates were admitted to membership. Our party visited a Sanskrit school at the palace of a Hindu Rajah, and on our way home called at the spacious house of Mr. Dorabji, who showed us every hospitality. In the evening at 5 p.m.
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Mrs. Besant lectured at Bashir Bagh on the subject “Is Man a Soul”. I never heard more strenuous applause than that which followed it. We left at 8 p.m. for Rajahmundry, a coast port on the Bay of Bengal. Many people thronged to see us off and we were quite loaded down with gifts of fruits and flowers.
As I was sitting inside the railway carriage, a couple of Hindu gentlemen brought a person to introduce to me. He was a Hindu, but was dressed in a European suit so begrimed with oil and black stains that I knew in a moment he must be either an engine driver or an assistant; to make doubt impossible, he was wiping his oil hands with a bunch of cotton-waste. His sponsors presented him to me as a Brahmin quite familiar with Sanskrit literature and the person himself corroborated this and said he had looked forward to a meeting with me with great pleasure because of what I had done for his country. He then made me an offer which amused us all greatly: he said that he was the engine-driver in charge of this train and would regulate the speed to suit our pleasure; if we wanted to go fast or slow I had only to say so! Fancy the making of an offer of this sort, by the driver of a mail train in Great Britain, France, or Germany.
We travelled all that night and all the next day until 8 p.m., when we reached our destination. A most picturesque-looking multitude, lit up by torches and fireworks, had gathered to await our arrival. One address was read to us in a pandal (palm-thatched shed) on the bank of the Godavery river, and another
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en route through the city to our stopping-place, by representatives of the Vaishya (mercantile) community. The torch-lights borne at both sides of the procession threw into high relief the artistic and turbaned figures of the multitude and the fronts of the buildings; the whole forming a picture impossible to match in any Western country in these artistically degenerate days, when all the pretty costumes of the olden time have disappeared and are replaced by the vulgarly ugly dress of modern civilization. It is something really saddening to one with the least cultivated artistic sense to see this deadly monotony of ugly clothing in all the countries of the world, outside Asia.
On Saturday the 16th, at 7.30 a.m., Mrs. Besant lectured at Museum Hall on “Theosophy and Science,” after which visitors thronged in upon her. I admitted fifteen candidates to membership and formed a new Branch of Vaishyas under the title of “The Gautama T.S.” At 6.30 p.m. her second lecture of the day was devoted to “The Inadequacy of Materialism”. On the next morning at 7.30 there was an address to students, by her, and I raised a fund for a Boys’ Library after she had finished her discourse. During the day members and inquirers were received at Amiruddeen’s Bungalow, our stopping-place. At 6.30 p.m. Mrs. Besant lectured on “Reincarnation in its Bearing on Social Problems,” after which we were escorted by a torchlight procession to the house-boat on which we were to continue our journey parallel, to the Coromandel Coast. We left on the morning of the 18th
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for Bezwada where we arrived at 1.30 and stopped until 7.30 p.m. Bezwada is a small place and it was rather amusing, after the monster audiences which we had faced hitherto, to see Mrs. Besant giving a magnificent lecture on the subject of “Pilgrimages of the Soul,” in a lawyer’s office to an auditory numbering about seventy-five people. At the hour above-named we continued our journey, going by paddle-boat through two locks and across the Krishna river to what was then the terminus of the East Coast Railway. The great bridge, a noble engineering work which now spans that historic stream, was then in course of construction. We entered the train at the point above mentioned and travelled all night, the next day, and following night, reaching home, Adyar, on the morning of 20th December. Many friends met us at the station with handsome garlands and Adyar looked so charming that it is no wonder that it provoked the admiration of the ladies. For that matter, when is it not charming? Its beauties continually grow on one and from the terrace of the house, in whatever direction the eye turns, it sees nought but pictures of beauty.
The time being short before it would be necessary for Mrs. Besant to give all her attention to the preparation of her Convention Lectures, we proceeded at once to discuss with Mr. Sturdy, Countess Wachtmeister, and Messrs. Edge and Old, the points in the case of Mr. Judge as presented in the mass of documents which I had got together out of the Society’s archives. The case, even on that ex parte view, was convincing enough
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as to his guilt in a long-continued and deliberate scheme to deceive his colleagues and the public about his alleged intimacy with the Masters and his holding of a brief, as we might say, from them, to convey messages and express their wishes with respect to the private conduct of members and the management of the Society. And yet it was made much stronger when we came to compare facts with Mrs. Besant, for it then became as clear as day that he had been playing a double game of deception, and telling her one thing and myself the opposite. In fact, the further we went into the inquiry, the blacker became the case, and a point was finally reached where no further doubt as to his culpability was possible. As Mrs. Besant said at the Convention of 1894, in a review of the circumstances—referring to these very conferences between us before the Convention of 1893 above noted: “I looked into the mass of evidence which was in the hands of Colonel Olcott, but which, taken by itself, while arousing the gravest suspicion, was not sufficiently clear, definite, and conclusive to justify Colonel Olcott, or Mr. Keightley, the Secretary of the Indian Section, in taking action which would commit the Society. But it happened that within my knowledge there were other facts unknown both to Colonel Olcott and Mr. Keightley, which made the evidence which was in their hands complete and so rendered it, to my mind at least, convincing. What I knew by myself was not enough for public action, and what they knew themselves was not enough for certain action, though that was
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stronger than mine; but all put together made so strong a body of evidence that it became a duty to the Society that it should be placed before it, and that Mr. Judge, as its Vice-President, should be given an opportunity of definitely meeting the charges if he could, so that an end might be put to a position so painful to all concerned, and so dangerous to the reputation and the honor of the Society.”
Having reached this point we were all of the opinion that Mr. Judge’s connection with the Society should cease, both as General Secretary of the American Section and as Vice-President of the whole Society. He was, moreover, President of the Aryan Branch, T.S., of New York, which had full right of jurisdiction in questions of the private conduct of its members. My official responsibility in such private cases does not become active until the case reaches me on appeal from the decision of the General Secretary of a Section, to whose notice it comes officially through the officers of the Branch itself. But with the cases of misconduct on the part of a General Secretary or a Vice-President I have very much to do and am called upon to act as the terms of our Constitution provide. The step which Mrs. Besant took when the whole case lay before us, was one of which I strongly disapproved, as I regarded it unwarrantable on her part. That she was led into it through her then intense personal friendship for our delinquent colleague did not seem to me to excuse her action: she not only wrote to Mr. Judge, as I did myself, advising him to resign office—a fully warranted
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proceeding on her part—but, and here is where the irregularity comes in, she sent him a copy of every piece of documentary evidence on which the case rested, these documents being strictly in my custody and only usable with my knowledge and consent. Mrs. Besant’s motive was of the highest, that of helping a beloved friend in great difficulty, to see all the cards held by the prosecution. Is it not inconceivable that after her having given this supreme proof of her personal friendship to him, Mr. Judge should have turned upon her later, when he found that two of our three Sections were in favor of his expulsion, and have done all he possibly could to destroy her influence, blacken her character (for instance, by the charge of her using black magic to harm him) and discredit her as a teacher? Our line of action having been made clear to us, the matter rested for the moment until Mr. Judge’s reply as to his proposed resignation should be received.
The Headquarters buildings now began rapidly filling up with delegates arriving from all parts of India. On the 21st (December) Mrs. Besant gave a public lecture at Victoria Town Hall on “The Dangers of Materialism,” to a vast and enthusiastic audience. On that day I received from Mrs. Higgins, of Colombo, her resignation of the Principalship of the Sanghamitta Girls’ School at Maradana, Colombo, in con-sequence of a disagreement between herself and the Executive Committee of the Women’s Educational Society of Ceylon. It may be remembered that, on
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arrival in the Island and her election as Principal, I inducted her into office at a public meeting of the Women’s Society and made them pledge her that she should not be interfered with in her management of the institution. I did this because the women of Ceylon had never been associated together in any public work before, and as their domestic relations and house customs differed diametrically with those of Western women, I knew that it would be impossible for Mrs. Higgins to get on with these associated Sinhalese ladies unless she were given freedom of action. All had gone well for a time but, during my prolonged absence from the Island, their former wise policy was gradually changed and the result was this rupture.
On the 23rd, Mrs. Besant held a conversazione in the Convention Hall at Headquarters, among her audience being several of the most influential leaders of Hindu society. It will be easily imagined what ability must have been displayed in the questions upon the most difficult problems of philosophy, metaphysics, science, and religion by men of such a high grade of intelligence as Sir Muttuswamy Iyer, a Judge of Her Majesty’s High Court ,of Judicature, the Hon. V. Bashyam Iyengar, the leader of the native Bar, since knighted by the queen and raised to the Bench of the same Court, Hon. S. Subramania Iyer, to whom the same honors have also been given, Dewan Bahadur R. Raghoonath Row, one of the highest financial officers in Madras, and men of that stamp. I have attended many of these question-meetings and held
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many myself in various countries, but have never heard these imposing themes so ably handled as I have in India. They are naturally skilled metaphysicians and logicians, an heredity behind them of an hundred generations having developed the acutest intelligence within these lines. And yet, among ten thousand high-class Brahmins one could hardly meet a single person capable of inventing the simplest of the ingenious contrivances for which patents are granted yearly in the United States and European Countries. These are the men who are lumped together in the mass of the population of India as “ignorant heathen” by returned Missionaries, when they go around begging for more money to carry on their hopeless religious propaganda.
On the next day I went to the station to receive Miss Henrietta Müller, the renowned woman-suffragist, coming from Bombay for the Convention. She was, then, quite full of a scheme for taking our Bombay Branch under a sort of tutelage and installing as its Manageress a Swedish-American lady member of our Society; she proposing to take rooms for her and the Branch in a desirable quarter of Bombay. Her idea was that the lady in question should receive European and other inquirers and help the Branch to launch out into a more active propaganda than they had hitherto made. It turned out, however, that they were not willing to be dry-nursed.
Daily the delegates arrived by battalions, all the rooms in the house were crowded, and Mrs. Besant’s
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daily conversaziones were attended by large gatherings. She would sit on the floor, cross-legged, in the Hindu fashion, along with the others, on great carpets that I had had spread, and answer the hardest questions with a readiness and lucidity that was charming. The Convention met, of course, on the 27th as usual, at noon; but, at 8 a.m., Mrs. Besant gave the first of her course of four grand lectures on “The Building of the Cosmos,” the theme this morning being on the agency of sound, i.e., vibration, in the outworking of the grand scheme.
Among the features touched upon in my Annual Address were the relationship of the E.S.T. to the Society, the activities of the year, a notice of the Chicago Theosophical Congress, a sketch of Mrs. Besant’s first Indian tour, the Gopalacharlu defalcation, my work for Buddhism in Ceylon and in connection with the acquirement of Buddha Gaya and the other usual matters. The year 1893 was one of exceptional activity and the results supremely important. In Europe, the United States, Australasia, India, Ceylon, and Burma, very extensive tours were made, scores of lectures delivered, forty-eight new Branches chartered, the Chicago Congress held, new Indian centre formed, and such like activity kept up in many countries through-out the twelve months. I laid great stress upon the question of the future direction of the Theosophical movement after my death, because as the Society swells every year and invades more and more previously unreached countries it is a growing question as to
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what shall happen when the original and only President it has had shall be removed in the course of nature, and whatever successor may be chosen must come into the management under totally different conditions. I think that, as nearly ten years have come and gone since then, and the number of our charters issued has increased from 352 at the close of 1893 to 656 at the close of 1901, and will probably reach the figure of 700 by the end of the current year, I had better include in this historical narrative the opposing views of myself and of my respected colleague, Mr. Vice-President Sinnett, although his have been somewhat modified since that time and he has brought his own Branch, the London Lodge, within the European, now re-christened British Section. I quote from my address as follows:
“Results yearly prove the wisdom of the plan of dividing the Society into Sections, and I hope in time to be able to extend it over the whole world. Australasia and New Zealand are almost ripe for it, and in time. I hope to find some competent person with the requisite leisure to re-organise the Buddhist Section in Ceylon. But for the formation of the American and European Sections, the tie between Headquarters and those distant parts of the world must have been ruptured before now. My endeavor has been from the first to build up a federal league on the basis of our Three Declared Objects which, while giving all members and Branches the greatest latitude of opinion and choice of work, should yet be a compact working entity, with
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the welding together of its units by the bond of a strong common tie of mutual interest and clearly defined corporate policy. The chief Executive has already become in great part, and must ultimately be entirely, the mere official pivot of the wheel, the central unit of its life, the representative of its federative charter, the umpire in all intersectional disputes, the wielder of the Council’s authority. As I gave autonomy to each Section as it came into being, so I mean to treat each future one, believing that our common interests will best be guarded by local administrators. I abhor the very semblance of autocratic interference, but I equally detest that principle of nullification which drives people to try to subvert constitutions under which they have prospered and which have proved in practice well fitted to promote the general well-being. This feeling has made me resent at times what seemed attempts to make the Society responsible for special authorities, ideas, and dogmas which, however good in themselves, were foreign to the views of some of our members, and hence an invasion of their personal rights of conscience under our Constitution. As the official guardian of that instrument, my duty requires this of me, and I hope never to fail in it.
“My respected colleague, Mr. A. P. Sinnett, and a few others hold views quite different from my own upon the subject of T.S. solidarity. They think that, after my death: ‘No successor should be elected as head of the Society all over the world, but it should drift into an organisation which would be much better
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adapted to the proportions the Society has now assumed . . . Control of the Presidential sort, as regards the Society as a whole, is an idea, in fact, that only be-longs to the infancy of such an organisation. Now that the movement has firmly taken root, it does not require that kind of nursing. . . At any given moment when the system. . . would be carried out—supposing that moment ever to arrive—the Presidents of the then existing, or chartered Lodges, would be the Parliament of the Society, and might have the opportunity of coming together in a conference once a year, at some time and place fixed by the General Secretary. Then it would be publicly notified that any bodies of people who, since the last period, had formed themselves into a Theosophical Lodge, could communicate with the General Council, and, if found to understand the ideas of our Society, be then and there recognised as having formed a new Lodge. Then the President of such a Lodge would take his place in the sectional Parliament or Council. The functions of the General Secretary would, of course, be reduced almost to a nullity, but the Presidents of Lodges could freely communicate amongst themselves, and if, from time to time, any co-operative action became desirable, could agree upon it.”
“While unconvinced of the superiority of this plan over the one in vogue, I have deemed it my duty to quote a few passages from a semi-private letter, that the views of a small group of able friends may be recorded at this stage of affairs. For my part, I cannot
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see how a world-covering movement like ours could possibly be kept advancing without some official thread to string the beads of Sections and Branches upon, and without one general and various local central offices, from which official circulars and other documents should issue, a propaganda be directed, the results of Sectional and general conferences be communicated, and information of general interest be disseminated; one at which disputes might be decided and archives kept. The plan proposed seems to me one of segregation into units called Branches, of the fostering of exclusiveness, of the abandonment of the propagandist work whose fruits are the spread of the movement, of the destruction of the sense of moral responsibility to the Society as a whole, for industrious and altruistic work, of the sweeping away of our present constitutional limits; which keep the movement strictly within the lines of our Three Declared Objects, and of the rupture of the common tie of fraternity which makes every member feel a family interest in all that the Society does in every quarter of the globe. However, the plan is laid before you for your information and such consideration as it may deserve.”
The ten years of additional experience has only confirmed me in the opinion I then expressed, and I am now satisfied that the Society will incur the risk of being divided up into fragmentary societies equal to the number of Sections that may exist at the time of my death, if the present excellent and very practical scheme of administration should be abandoned. I
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cannot see for one moment how it could be dispensed with, and to my mind, the only real problem is to find a person for President who will administer his office with strict impartiality as between nations, sects, and political systems. He must live at Adyar, develop the library, keep up The Theosophist, push on the educational work, now so prosperous, in Ceylon and Southern India, and be ready to visit all parts of the world as occasion shall require, to weave the outlying Sections into the great golden web of brotherhood whose centre and nucleus is at Adyar.
Over four hundred delegates were fed at the Brahmin kitchens at the headquarters on the opening day and the Convention was the largest ever held up to that time. On the second day the Annual Group photograph was taken, after which Mrs. Besant gave her second lecture on Fire as one of the elements in the building of the Kosmos. At noon the Society’s Convention re-assembled, and after the close of the session the Convention of the Indian Section followed. At 5 p.m. the Eighteenth Anniversary of the Society was celebrated in Victoria Town Hall before a monster audience. The speakers on the occasion were Messrs. Raghoonath Row, N. D. Khandalavala, Purunendu Narayana Sinha, the Countess Wachtmeister, Mrs. Besant, and myself. The morning lecture on the 29th was on “Yoga” and that on the 30th, the last of the course, on “Symbolism”. The sessions of the Society and the Indian Section closed on the 29th. At 5.30 p.m. the late Mr. Sivasankara Pandiyaji lectured and
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Mrs. Besant kindly gave an extra lecture in the evening at 8.30 on “Karma,” a superb argument. The house began rapidly emptying after the morning lecture of the 30th. Mrs. Besant, Miss Müller and I went to a reception by Hindu ladies and gentlemen at the house of Rajah T. Rama Row, in Triplicane, where Mrs. Besant answered,with inspiration, questions about the use of Temples, Vedic Fire, Mantrams and the symbology of the Puranic story of the churning of the ocean by the Suras and Asuras. By the morning of the 31st the house was nearly empty. Mr. Sturdy, Miss Müller, and others left, and Mrs. Besant, the Countess, and I indulged ourselves with the pleasure of a drive along the superb Marina.