OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
A HISTORICAL RETROSPECT
WE have seen that the passage of the Tingley crusaders left no trace behind it; in fact, since the date of our narrative (November, 1896), I do not remember to have read in an Eastern paper even the slightest allusion to her work or her society. If I am not mistaken, the same blight has fallen upon her movement in America, its whole vitality having been concentrated at Point Loma, where her palatial buildings have been erected amid lovely surroundings. Remembering that the Judge secession was based upon a platform of historical falsification and misrepresentation of individuals, one could hardly feel surprised that it should exhaust its impetus after a brief period.
As remarked in the last chapter, I felt it incumbent upon me to undertake a task until then neglected, in compiling from the heterogeneous mass of papers in my possession, a detailed history of the rise and progress of the Society, with its
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several changes of organisation during the quarter-century which was closing at the time of Mrs. Tingley’s visit to India. This narrative was included in my Annual Address to the Convention of 1896 and will be found in the report published in The Theosophist for January, 1897; a small edition of it was issued in pamphlet form in advance of the meeting of Convention, with the title A Historical Retrospect, 1875—1896.
It is shown in the above Retrospect that the history of our Society divided itself naturally into periods, as follow;—
(a) From the informal social gathering at which its formation was proposed, to
the departure of the two chief founders from New York to Bombay;
(b) From their arrival in India, throughout the spread of its influence in Asiatic
and Australasian countries;
(c) From the visit of the two founders to Europe, throughout the development
of the movement in European countries;
(d) In America, from the departure of the founders for India, to the formation
of the Board of Control;
(e) From the latter event, to the replacement of the Board by the American
Section of the Theosophical Society;
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(f) From the latter event, to its disruption in April, 1895;
(g) From the latter, event, to the present time (December, 1896).
The reason for the postponement of the writing of our history to this late date is not far to seek: H. P. B. and I had been so busy in making history that we had had no time for the writing of it. The field was thus left clear for the sowing of Mr. Judge’s crop of fables, and under the zealous tillage of himself, his colleagues and successors, the soil had become choked with weeds. Further delay would have been inexcusable, so the narrative in question was prepared, and so thoroughly that it is doubtful if any subsequent additions can or will ever be made. The ignorance about the evolution of the Society up to the present time among our members is, I fear it must be said, appalling; I do not suppose that one out of a hundred of those who have joined us within the past five years have any distinct notion on the subject, and not one in twenty have read any of H. P. B.’s writings. All the more reason why I should collect, so far as may be, the materials which will prove useful hereafter to the person who shall write that compendious history of the Theosophical movement of which my present work is but a forerunner.
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With the valuable help of Dr. and Miss English and others in the house, the materials for the pamphlet were got together after long search and on the 7th December I began writing it out. Within a few days it was finished and sent in to the printer. The drafting of my Annual Address and other office work occupied my time pretty thoroughly throughout the second half of December. The first delegates to the Convention arrived on the 19th, from which time onward they swarmed in from all the four quarters after the usual fashion. About this time 2 Russian gentleman interested in the compilation of a Hindustani grammar and vocabulary, a Mr. Alexander Vigornitsky, brought me a letter of introduction from M. Blanc, the French explorer of Central Asia, in which he asked me to aid his friend as far as might be, in the attainment of his object. What I did was to give him my visiting-card with a few words of commendation written upon it and a printed list of our Indian Branches, telling him that he had only to present himself to any of the local representatives of our Branches, ask for what he wanted and take with confidence what might be told him. Just before the meeting of Convention he returned to Adyar and told me that my little visiting card had, he believed, been more efficacious for him than if he
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had had a gilded passport from a reigning king; that neither M. Blanc nor himself had had a conception of the importance of the Theosophical Society as a means of binding together the peoples of India in a great bond of sympathy and brotherhood.
The statistical returns which were read to the Convention showed a year of prosperity despite the cataclysm in America. Charters had been issued for 20 new Branches and at the close of the twelve-month we had on our Register 428 living Branches, as against 408 at the close of 1895. Of these 7 were Indian; 6 European; 3 American; 2 Australasian; 1 Scandinavian and 1 New Zealand. Miss Edger, as General Secretary of the last-named Section, made her first Annual Report. The Rules of the T. S. were carefully revised on July 9th at a Special Meeting of the General Council held at London; and these have been left unchanged up to the present time of writing (1905), excepting the slight modifications which the Incorporation of the Society made necessary. The death of Mr. W. Q. Judge on the 21st of April, less than one year after his secession, was the most striking event of 1896, in our history, but its consequences have been far less important than had been anticipated; in fact, one may fairly describe the latter circumstance as a dismal failure from the
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point of view of the conspirators who engineered it. For their intention was to wreck the Society, cast out its surviving founder and Mrs. Besant, and on its ruins erect their new Society with Mr. Judge as its Hierophant Ruler, the sole successor to H. P. B. and to her “twin,” as well.
Among the interesting facts given in the President’s Annual Report for 1896, are the statistics of our literary activity from 1883 to that date. During this period the Society and its individual members had published 473 books, 53 periodicals and 240 pamphlets. These not taking into account the publications in Eastern vernacular, the statistics of which were not in my possession.
Among the interesting letters received by me in connection with that year’s Convention was one from the venerable high priest Sumangala, which, in view of the nonsensical attempt recently begun by a conceited young man to falsify the history of the educational movement in Ceylon, may well be admitted into my narrative at this point:—
TO COLONEL H. S. OLCOTT,
President, T. S.
Whereas, I learn that the Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society for 1896 is to sit at
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Adyar this December, I have much pleasure in expressing, on behalf of the Buddhists of this Island, their gratitude to you in particular and to the T. S. in general, for inaugurating and encouraging the spread of education, secular and religious, among the Buddhist boys and girls in Ceylon, and for securing for the Buddhist that toleration and freedom from persecution which they did not enjoy before your first arrival in 1880.
(Sd.) H. SUMANGALA,
Pradana Nayaka Thera and
December 2nd, 1896. High Priest of Adam’s Peak.
In the course of my reading at that time I came across a highly interesting story in the Phrenological Journal for November, about a Negro whose skull had been fractured in the battle of Bull Run, in 1861, and who had remained without intelligence until 1881, when his skull was trepanned and his consciousness was restored. His first question was: “Which side licked, yesterday?” The intervening twenty years had been a total blank: his body had functioned but his brain consciousness on the physical plane had been arrested. This is an almost parallel case to that of the groom, made classical by its use in the works of several materialistic physiologists, where the unfortunate man while cleaning a horse had
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had his skull fractured by a kick of its hoof, had remained without consciousness until after a trepanning, when his first conscious action was to complete a sentence which he had been speaking at the time of the accident. The argument of the physiologists was briefly this: Consciousness is a function of the brain; an accident suspends it; a fatal one destroys it; therefore there is no consciousness in any entity apart from the brain. The insufficiency of this reasoning has been proved countless times by the experimenters with mesmerism and clairvoyance; but still in spite of fact and experience the old fallacious logic is still clung to by that class of persons who seem to resent as almost a personal affront the attempt to destroy scientific superstructures built upon foundations of ignorance and vanity. So much violence and bitterness do they sometimes display, that in seeking to find some term expressive of their mental condition, I invented the word "Psychophobia" and respectfully commend it to students of psychology. No victim of dog-bite shows more terror at the sight of water than does one of these ultramaterialists when asked to consider some new and extremely convincing phenomenon which goes to show' the separability of man's astral body from his physical, and his power to carry his consciousness to whatever distance he may have projected
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himself by the power of his will: one would think that he thought that a new thought would bite him!
The last whiff of perfume from the truthful Tingley crusaders was wafted to us about the middle of December from Colombo, where they held a meeting at Floral Hall on the 12th December, at 5 P.M. In the advertisement the public is assured that there would be nothing to pay for the intellectual symposium; they would have the “Addresses Free”; and for fear that, under a misapprehension as to the character of the party they might absent themselves and so lose the unique chance of seeing and hearing the “Leader of the Entire Theosophical Movement throughout the World,” they announced that “The Members of the Tour wish it to be distinctly understood that they have no connection with that organisation to which MRS. ANNIE BESANT is attached and of which COLONEL OLCOTT is President.” This is really very kind on the part of our gifted enemy, as it saves me the necessity of taking any further trouble to prove that neither I nor the Society has any responsibility for the harlequinade that gave the crusaders an agreeable outing at the expense of their confiding colleagues.
As above noted, the stream of delegates flowed in as usual and on the 27th the Convention opened at its appointed time with more than the usual
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number of representatives of Branches. Among the pleasant incidents of the opening was the receipt of a long cablegram from the General Secretary of the Australasian Section and an equally cordial greeting from the New Zealand Section. These cables and telegrams and letters and official reports and attendances of delegates in person combine to make one realize how world-wide our movement has become. A feature of the twenty-first Anniversary was the appearance on the scene of Dr. Arthur Richardson, late of University College, Bristol, who had resigned the chair which he had occupied twelve years to come out to India and work with us without money and without price. He gave us some lectures on “Fire,” “Science and the Invisible,” and other subjects, to the great profit of his hearers. The great feature of that year’s Convention (the Twenty-first) was the course of lectures given by Mrs. Besant on Four Great Religions, a most scholarly, striking and convincing intellectual effort. So eloquent was she in her expositions of the several world faiths, so clearly did she make her points, and so ingeniously weave around them the golden web of a common parentage, that one would have thought that a learned Pandit, Mobed, Bhikshu or Bishop was in his turn expounding the mysteries of his own ancestral religion. These admirable discourses were soon
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after published, and together with her subsequent series, entitled The Religious Problem in India, are invaluable helps to students of Comparative Religion, to find the common. basis upon which all human creeds have been built. It is only fair to quote what she herself says about the plan pursued in the treatment of her subject. In the Foreword (Introduction) to her Four Great Religions she thus sketches her dominant idea:
“The general principles underlying these lectures are the following:
“Each religion is looked at in the light of occult knowledge, both as regards its history and its teachings. While not despising the conclusions arrived at by the patient and admirable work of European scholars, I have unhesitatingly flung them aside where they conflict with important facts preserved in occult history, whether in those imperishable records where all the past is still to be found in living pictures, or in ancient documents carefully stored up by Initiates and not wholly inaccessible. Especially is this the case with regard to the ages of Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, touching which modern scholarship is ludicrously astray. That scholarship, however, will regard the occult view as being, in its turn, grotesquely wrong. Be it so. Occultism can wait to be justified by discoveries, as so many of its
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much-ridiculed statements as to antiquity have already been; the earth is a faithful guardian, and as the archæologist uncovers the cities buried in her bosom many an unexpected witness will be found to justify the antiquity that is claimed.
“Secondly, each religion is treated as coming from the one great Brotherhood, which is the steward and custodian of spiritual knowledge. Each is treated as an expression, by some member or messenger of that Brotherhood, of the eternal spiritual truths, an expression suited to the needs of the time at which it was made, and of the dawning civilisation that it was intended to mould and to guide in its evolution. Each religion has its own mission in the world, is suited to the nations to whom it is given, and to the type of civilization it is to permeate, bringing it into line with the general evolution of the human family. The failure to see this leads to unjust criticism, for an ideally perfect religion would not be suitable to imperfect and partially evolved men, and environment must always be considered by the Wise when They plant a new slip of the ancient tree of wisdom.
“Thirdly, an attempt is made to distinguish the essential from the non-essential in each religion, and to treat chiefly the former. For every religion in the course of time suffers from accretions due
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to ignorance—not to wisdom, to blindness—not to vision. Within the brief compass of these lectures, it was not possible to distinguish in detail, nor to point out all the numerous non-essentials. But the following test may be used by anyone who desires to guide himself practically in discriminating between the permanent and the transitory elements in any religion. Is it ancient, to be found in the ancient Scriptures? Has it the authority of the Founder of the religion, or of the Sages to whom the formulation of the particular religion is due? Is it universal, found under some form in all religions? As regards spiritual truths, anyone of these tests is sufficient. As to smaller matters, matters of rites and ceremonies, observances and customs, the use or disuse of any particular practice, we may ask as to each: Is it laid down or recommended in the ancient Scriptures, by the Founder or His immediate disciples? Can its usefulness be explained or verified by those in whom occult training has developed the inner faculties which make the invisible world a region they know by their own experience? If a custom be of modern growth, with only a century, or two or three centuries, behind it; if it be local, not found in any ancient Scripture, nor justified by occult knowledge; then—however helpful it may be found by any individual in his
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spiritual life—it should not be imposed on any member of a particular religion as binding on him as a part of that religion, nor should a man be looked at askance for non-compliance with it. This fact especially needs enforcement in India, where customs that are entirely local, or very modern, are apt to be identified with Hinduism in the minds of their followers, and any Hindus who do not accept them are looked upon as somewhat inferior, even as unorthodox. Such customs, even if much valued and found useful by their adherents, should not be considered as generally binding, and should fall into the class of non-essentials. It has been well said that while in things essential there should be unity, in things non-essential there should be liberty, and in all things there should be charity. Were that wise rule followed by each, we should hear less of the religious antagonisms and sectarian disputes that bring shame on the very word ‘religion’. That which ought to unite has been the ever-springing source of division, until many have impatiently shaken off all religion as being man’s worst enemy, the introducer everywhere of strife and hatred.”
The audiences at Mrs. Besant’s lectures are always enthusiastic but on these four mornings they were unusually so: the crowds were tremendous, the Hall crowded to suffocation, and the applause was constant and tumultuous.
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As we pass in review all the various religious systems that have been taught to humanity, including the four treated by Mrs. Besant in this course of lectures, the thoughtful mind is struck with the fact that the vulgar, or popular, aspect of each is essentially what we might call the “geocentric”, i.e., that they deal only with this planet and its inhabitants; the view of the Problem of Existence is narrow, circumscribed and insufficient to give one the smallest grasp of the great scheme of cosmic evolution. In Buddhism alone—the popular form, I mean, not the esoteric—we are taught in so many words that “there are whole Sakawalas or systems of worlds, of various kinds, higher and lower, and also that the inhabitants of each world correspond in development with itself.”1
There is nothing geocentric in such a teaching as that, it is essentially cosmical. Other religions, as interpreted by the occultist, contain the same root idea, but without the help of such an interpreter the idea lies hidden and the religion is seen only in its geocentric aspect. The supreme majesty of The Secret Doctrine lies in the fact that it makes our world and the planetary system to which it belongs the type of the general cosmical scheme; and that its expositions of that scheme are scientific, reasonable and axiomatic; that it embodies the
1The Buddhist Catechism, Question 144, 37th Edition.
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principles of perfect justice, perfect equilibrium and—with the keys of Karma and Reincarnation—perfect comprehensibility; hence the legacy that has been bequeathed, to posterity by H. P. Blavatsky in reviving that ancient teaching is rich beyond compute.1 This teaching allows our awakened intelligence to soar as high as we respectively can with our developed powers, and to get at least glimpses of our kinship with all beings who inhabit the orbs of space. It was the glimmering perception of this teaching that was to come that induced the Founders of the Theosophical Society to make the corner-stone of the movement the idea of the essential brotherhood of mankind. As we have said numberless times, it never entered into our heads to imagine that there could be any perfect brotherhood of men of various races and environments on the physical plane; that was but a dream of Utopia: but we did know that, on the super-physical plane, sex, color, nationality, prejudice and religious animosities did not exist. We knew that the disturbing factors above enumerated are but the temporary obstacles begotten of physical existence, whose power would be completely lost if men could
1Of course, it must be said that the Spiritualists, from the time of A. J. Davis’ production of his Nature’s Divine Revelations onwards, have taught the occupancy of other worlds besides our Earth by sentient beings, but this sensible doctrine has not yet been taken into the body of Christianity; nor has Spiritualism, as such, been as yet developed into the form of a specific religion.
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be persuaded to identify themselves with that indwelling divine entity or Higher Self, which when it mounts to its own plane, looks down upon the dash and turmoil of human society, as the soaring eagle “from his mansion in the sun” distinguishes, like multitudes of crawling ants that are moving over the earth below, within their respective barriers of limitation, the nations who fight each other for possession of its surface.