OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE PHENOMENAL GROWTH OF THE T.S.
WE resume our notice of the Convention of 1897 which was begun in the last chapter. The tone of the Annual Report is that of a breezy optimism, as will appear from the following extract from the Presidential Address: “Never before, since the Society’s foundation, have its prospects been brighter, its sky more unclouded. Storms may come again, may we may be sure they will, and fresh obstacles present themselves, but one such exciting and exhilarating year as 1897 braces up one’s courage to stand the worst shocks and surmount the most obstructive difficulties that can be found in our forward path. It is not merely from one quarter that good fortune is flowing towards this centre, but from all sides; not only from America but from Europe, India and the Australasian colonies come to us the proofs that our Theosophical movement
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rides on the crest of a wave of spiritual influx that is circulating around the globe.”
One of the most important events of the year as affecting the interests of the whole Society was the long tour made by Mrs. Besant, accompanied by the Countess Wachtmeister, throughout the United States. At the outset, in New York, the leaders of the Secession party were engaged in a campaign of slander and hatred against Mrs. Besant for the part she took in the exposure of Judge’s guilt; baseless slanders were circulated against her, her motives calumniated, and all she had done, out of the abundance of her sisterly love for him and his Section, was absolutely forgotten and her benevolence repaid by criminal ingratitude. For a time during the tour her audiences were small and her expenses exceeded her receipts. But the power behind her was irresistible, and perfect success crowned the latter half of her tour. Here is what Mr. Fullerton said in his Official Report of that year:
“The great event of the year has been the she months’ tour of Mrs. Annie Besant. Of course no estimate is possible of the thousands to whom came, directly or indirectly, a knowledge of Theosophy through her public lectures, receptions, and interviews, with the widespread newspaper notices thereof, or of the countless thought-forces set in
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motion by labors of such length. Nor is it possible to gauge the instruction, the cheer, the enlightenment, the inspiration given by her in private intercourse, nor yet the gratitude felt by those thus helped. As a mere matter of numerical statistics it may be stated that Mrs. Annie Besant formed twenty-three new branches, and that her recommendatory signature appears on two hundred and twenty-one applications for membership.
“One element of indescribable value in the results of Mrs. Besant’s tour is the rescue of Theosophy from popular opprobrium as a system of clap-trap, cheap marvel, and sensationalism, and its restoration to its real plane of dignified religious philosophy. The general contempt brought upon Theosophy by recent travesties of it has been greatly abated through her magnificent expositions of it. At this time Mrs. Besant’s portrayal of the real Ancient Wisdom has an importance exceptionally great, one which will be more and more discerned as years unroll. That her tour was enjoined and supervised can readily be perceived by all familiar with its bearings.”
Mr. Fullerton speaks appreciatively of the long-continued labors of the Countess Wachtmeister, who, from May of 1896 up to the time of his writing, had formed fourteen new Branches, travelled over a large part of the
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North and West and was to do a tour through the South during the coming winter. Anything that can be said in praise of the self-sacrificing labors of this patrician lady would be well deserved, for since she joined the Society and helped and consoled H. P. B. in Europe, she has thrown herself with tireless energy into the helping on of the movement: her time, her strength and her money have been ungrudgingly given, and despite her age and growing infirmities she has travelled over many countries of the world.
Three important systems of Sectional work were devised and aided by Mrs. Besant,—a committee from each group of arranged States, with a correspondent in each State, for giving information as to hopeful points and for labor therein; a committee to whom questions as to doctrine or duty or truth might be sent for consideration and response; a Lending Library plan, by which Branches might enjoy for a time the use of standard works: moreover, under Mrs. Besant’s auspices, a committee was appointed by that year’s Convention to issue successive Outlines of Branch Study, and the Chicago Branch published a carefully analysed Syllabus, very helpful to Branches and private students, and as an aid to propaganda a member of the Section contributed 50,000 copies of Mrs. Besant’s pamphlet, What Theosophy Is.
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The European Section reports among its important events of 1897, the publication of Vol. III of The Secret Doctrine, Mrs. Besant’s The Ancient Wisdom and Mr. Leadbeater’s manual on The Devachanic Plane; H. P. B.’s magazine, Lucifer, changed its name to The Theosophical Review, increased in size and improved in form. A very comprehensive programme of visits to Branches and of public lectures was carried through within the Section and Mrs. Cooper-Oakley visited France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Russia, while Mr. Mead travelled through Sweden and Holland.
“The newly-formed Dutch Section made a most encouraging report for the fraction of a year which had transpired from the date of the granting of its charter; May 14th, to the date of the report; Mr. Fricke also introduced a brief historical retrospect. It appears that when the first charter was issued to a Dutch Branch in 1891 there were only three of the members who understood English and no Theosophical literature in the Dutch language had as yet appeared. But at the time of the General Secretary’s Report in 1897, all the Lodges, with one exception, possessed Lending Libraries containing all Dutch publications and the standard English Theosophical works; all of them held weekly meetings and devoted at least one evening in the month to public lectures; study classes and
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question meetings for the benefit of inquirers were being held as well as classes in English and Sanskrit, mathematics in the Amsterdam Lodge and in the other Amsterdam Lodge, the Vahana, a weekly class for theoretical and practical geometry. The change in public sentiment towards us is also noted: at the beginning the newspapers would have nothing to do with our members and refused all articles sent in, but things had already so changed at the date of the Report that editors were not only willingly accepting articles on our subjects but also were giving very fair reports of our public lectures. Sectarians had begun to write against us, especially the Roman Catholic papers which had been devoting much time and space to attempts to prove our ideas fallacious. In short, the prospects of the Netherlands Section were bright and encouraging.
The phenomenal growth of our Society during the year 1897 had no parallel in our previous history. Sixty-four new Branches were added to the list and distributed as follows: Indian Section fifteen, European Section eight, American Section thirty-seven, Scandinavian Section one, Australasian Section two, New Zealand Section one. Deducting Branches seceded we had 402 living charters and recognized Centres remaining. It was in that year that the Dutch Branches were grouped into the Netherlands Section, making the seventh of the grand divisions
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of our Society, the sequence of their ages being: 1. The American, 2. The European, 3. The Indian, 4. The Australasian, 5. The Scandinavian, 6. The New Zealand, 7. The Netherlands. I am glad that, in noticing the organization of the Netherlands Section, I recorded the following prophecy: “Once let them become convinced of the merits of the Theosophical teaching, there is no sacrifice they are not capable of making, no obstacles they will not try to surmount to put our movement on a sure footing. In this, they resemble the Scotch.” The outcome of the movement in Holland bears out this prophecy to the very letter: as for Scotland, she is not yet awakened; her tremendous latent strength in this direction will be developed in the future.
The General Secretary of the Indian Section, Babu Upendranath Basu carried an optimistic tone throughout his report. There is a record of great activity on the part of all the workers. New members had been admitted into 49 Branches, 15 new charters had been issued, 6 old Branches revived and 355 members had joined the Section. The Reports of the Australasian and New Zealand Sections, of course, make much mention of the joint tour of Miss Edger and myself and notice the encouraging fact that the sale of our literature is constantly increasing. A very healthy state of things was reported by the General
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Secretary of the Scandinavian Section, which to me is always a most interesting item in our yearly report of activities. How impressive is a fact like the following: “A new Lodge was founded on the 16th October under the name of Bäfrast, in Lulea, a Swedish town, situated in the Polar regions. It already has sixteen members, with Mr. S. R. Sven-Nilson as President.” The Report of Mr. Buültjens, General Manager of Buddhist Schools (Ceylon), shows that at the close of 1897 there were in the Colombo Circuit 13,910 children under instruction in 64 schools; the number in the Galle Circuit is not given, but in the Kandy Circuit there were 2,884.
As usual the Anniversary of the Society was publicly celebrated on the 28th December at Victoria Public Hall, Madras: the usual crowd were present and the usual enthusiasm prevailed. The addresses of the year were by the President-Founder, Dr. A. Richardson, H. R. H. the Prince-Priest Jinawarawansa, Mr. Roshan Lal of Allahabad, Mr. Harry Banbery, Mr. Knudsen of Hawaii, and Miss Edger. The Prince’s address was in the form of an Open Letter, which was read for him by myself, and from which it will be worth while to copy some extracts as showing how the views of a royal Prince, ex-diplomatist and man of the world, can change when he turns his back on
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the worldly career and takes up the life of a religious mendicant. Such an act of renunciation as this naturally appealed in a striking degree to the imaginations of the Indian audience in the history of whose ancestors are found many similar instances. The Prince said:
“I am extremely reluctant to come on the platform at this meeting, as requested and give my views on questions engaging the attention of the Theosophists.
“In my present retired life, which is that of a Buddhist Monk who is yet in his first stage of the priesthood—that of learning and acquiring knowledge and experience,—to take the position of a speaker on a public platform would not be consistent with my aims, or the rules of my order, and certainly contrary to my naturally retiring disposition.
“I would, therefore, crave your kind indulgence to allow me to remain as an attentive listener and receive the teaching and suggestions of those more ripened in experience and who are qualified to teach on subjects so abstract and philosophical as well as practical. As a listener and a student I shall fulfil the desire I have so long indulged in, to come to India and learn her ancient wisdom.
* * * * *
“I confess, my dear Colonel, I shudder to reflect on the modern calamities of which we have already
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had the experience, and the possibility of a European war is more frightful still, amidst religious activity and societies for all kinds of works for the alleviation of the sufferings of humanity.
“Is it not anomalous, that such should be the state of things in the world of to-day?
“The truth is, I venture to suggest, that men have become too learned and knowledge is a drug in the market.
“The beauties of morals and religion are taught and acquired as any other knowledge is taught and acquired, and for the same object, but neither the teacher nor the learner practises them after they have learnt. Hence knowledgebecomes a dangerous weapon, as very clearly pointed out by Miss Edger this morning.
“If Theosophy would undertake, in addition to the work of bringing men together into one Universal Brotherhood, the duty of leading men by example and practice, and training them instead of merely teaching them in religious truth, by their exemplary life, so that they might be either true Christians or Hindus, or Buddhists, etc., whatever be their religion, and not hypocrites as they now appear to be, it would be conferring the greatest of all the boons of the century. The one work that is needed now, I believe, is example and practice and not mere theories.
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“Personally, and as far as I have yet learnt, I think that all the elements necessary for the basis of a Universal Religion are found in Buddhism. For there you find the Truth that no man can deny and no science can disprove. In its purest form as originally taught by its “Finder” (Buddha was not a founder but a finder, so was Christ, etc.) there is no superstition or dogma. It is therefore the re1igion of nobody, the religion for everybody, and to regard it as of Buddha alone and call it Buddhism is extremely misleading. Buddha was a finder of truth concerning existence and eternity. This religion of truth is always here in the Universe and it is found out by any one who seeks it and brings it to light when the world has need of it in the course of its eternal evolution, for its spiritual requirement.
“The key-note to Buddhism, and its idea of salvation, which is purely philosophical, is that it is neither ‘you’ nor ‘I’ nor anybody else that suffers misery or enjoys happiness or attains to Nirvâna. It is the ‘Pancakkhandha’ or the five component elements of being that does this.
“The secret of misery and happiness is to be found in selfhood and where there is self there can be no truth, for self is an illusion.The moment one forgets one’s self, pleasure and pain and all other sensations disappear, and the Truth of Buddhism is seen, and Nirvâna gained.
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“As thought is the seat of the delusion of self, it is in thought that either happiness or misery is found. Hence the whole of the Buddhist metaphysic or psychological science is summed up in these four words of very deep meanings and capable of great expansion: Cittam, Cetasikam, Rûpam Nibbânam, or Thought, Perception, Sight ,and Nirvâna.
“From this, deep and earnest contemplation on the Four Noble Truths brings the conviction as a sequence, that misery or happiness depends on thought and conception; right thought and conception bring happiness; erroneous thought and conception bring misery; for the one makes you see things in the cosmos as they really are in their abstract truth, and the other as they appear to be in relative truth.
“Hence Nirvâna depends upon the three elements of Thought, Conception and Sight.
“The whole of their religion, as you have already stated in your Catechism, is summed up in the celebrated verse:
To cease from all wrong doing,
To get virtue,
To cleanse one’s own heart—
This is the religion of Buddha.
“And a more beautiful doctrine and a greater truth has never been told in any religion in the world . . .
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“This reminds me again that we are really spiritually retrograding, and need radical reform in our educational methods for bringing up our children and for the Buddhists of Ceylon in providing them with education based on the plan of bringing up the Buddhists in their own religion. This system, before your time, practically did not exist, and the universal praise that has been bestowed on you by the Sinhalese for the blessings which they now enjoy, must be a source of pleasure and happiness to you.
“May you and your Society, such as I to-day conceive it to be, be protected by the Triple Gem which is Truth, and be successful in all right efforts.”