A Year of Theosophy
Theosophist, January, 1881
The dial of Time marks off another of the world’s Hours. . . . And, as the Old Year passes into Eternity, like a rain-drop falling into the ocean, its vacant place on the calendar is occupied by a successor which—if one may credit the ancient prophetic warnings of Mother Shipton and other seers—is to bring woe and disaster to some portions of the world. Let it go, with its joys and triumphs, its badness and bitterness, if it but leave behind for our instruction the memory of our experience and the lesson of our mistakes. Wise is he who lets “the dead Past bury its dead,” and turns with courage to meet the fresher duties of the New Year; only the weak and foolish bemoan the irrevocable. It will be well to take a brief retrospect of those incidents of the year 1880 (A.D.) which possess an interest for members of the Theosophical Society. The more so since, in consequence of the absence from Bombay of the President and Corresponding Secretary, the anniversary day of the Society was not publicly celebrated.
It will not be necessary to enter minutely into those details of administration which, however important in themselves as links, weak or strong, in the general chain of progress, and however they may have taxed the patience, nerve, or other resources of the chief officers. do not at all interest the public. It is not so much explanation as results that are demanded, and these, in our case, abound. Even our worst enemy would be forced to admit, were he to look closely into our transactions, that the Society is immeasurably stronger morally, numerically, and as regards a capacity for future usefulness, than it was a year ago. Its name has become most widely known; its fellowship has been enriched by the accession of some very distinguished men; it has planted new branch societies in India, Ceylon and elsewhere; applications are now pending for the organization of still other branches, in New South Wales, Sydney, California. India, Australia; its magazine has successfully entered the second volume; its local issues with the government of India have been finally and creditably settled; a mischievous attempt by a handful of malcontents at Bombay to disrupt it has miserably failed.1 It has made official alliances with the Sanskrit Samaj of Benares, that is to say, with the most distinguished body of orthodox Sanskrit pandits in the world, with the other Sabha of which Pandit Rama Misra Shastri is Manager, and with the Hindu Sabha, of Cochin State; while, at the same time, strengthening its fraternal relations with the Arya Samajas of the Punjab and North-Western Provinces. Besides all this, we can point with joy and pride to the results of the late mission to Ceylon, where, within the space of fifty-seven days, seven branch societies of Buddhist laymen, one Ecclesiastical Council of Buddhist priests, and one scientific society were organized, and some hundreds of new fellows were added to our list.
All this work could not be accomplished without great labour, mental anxiety and physical discomfort. If to this be added the burden of a correspondence with many different countries, and the time required for making two journeys to Northern India and one to Ceylon, our friends at a distance will see that whatever other blame may properly attach to the Founders, who have never claimed infallibility of any sort, that of laziness is assuredly not to be cast in their teeth. Nor, when they learn that the work done since leaving America, the travelling expenses and the fitting and maintenance of the Headquarters establishment has cost some twenty thousand rupees, while the cash receipts of the Treasurer (exclusive of those from Ceylon, Rs. 2,440, which sum is set aside as a special fund to be used in the interest of Buddhism) have been only one thousand two hundred and forty rupees, all told, including one donation of two hundred rupees from the universally respected Maharanee Surnomoyee, and another of twenty rupees from a well-wisher in Bengal, will those who direct the Society’s affairs be regarded by them as making money out of their offices. And these figures, which may most readily be verified, are our only answer to the calumnies which have been maliciously circulated by some who did not, and others who did, know the truth.
The trip to Ceylon occupied seventy-seven days in all, the second one to Northern India one hundred and twenty-five days. Thus the Founders have been absent from Bombay on duty twenty-nine weeks out of the fifty-two; their travels extending through twenty-five degrees of latitude, from Lahore at the extreme north of India, to Matara, the southernmost point of ancient Lanka. Each of the Indian Presidencies has contributed a quota of new members; and at the former capital of the late lion-hearted Runjeet Singh, a branch was recently organized by Sikhs and Punjabis, under the title of the “Punjab Theosophical Society.” During the twelvemonth, President Olcott delivered seventy-nine lectures and addresses, a majority of which were interpreted in the Hindi, Urdu, Guzerati and Sinhalese languages.
Many misconceptions prevail as to the nature and objects of the Theosophical Society. Some—Sir Richard Temple in the number—fancy it is a religious sect; many believe it is composed of atheists; a third party are convinced that its sole object is the study of occult science and the initiation of green hands into the Sacred Mysteries. If we have had one we certainly have had a hundred intimations from strangers that they were ready to join at once if they could be sure that they would shortly be endowed with siddhis, or the power to work occult phenomena. The beginning of a new year is a suitable time to make one more attempt—we wish it could be the last—to set these errors right. So then, let us say again: (1) The Theosophical Society teaches no new religion, aims to destroy no old one, promulgates no creed of its own, follows no religious leader, and, distinctly and emphatically, is not a sect, nor ever was one. It admits worthy people of any religion to membership, on the condition of mutual tolerance and mutual help to discover truth. The Founders have never consented to be taken as religious leaders, they repudiate any such idea, and they have not taken and will not take disciples. (2) The Society is not composed of atheists, nor is it any more conducted in the interest of atheism than in that of deism or polytheism. It has members of almost every religion, and is on equally fraternal terms with each and all. (3) Not a majority, nor even a respectable minority, numerically speaking, of its fellows are students of occult science or ever expect to become adepts. All who cared for the information have been told what sacrifices are necessary in order to gain the higher knowledge, and few are in a position to make one tenth of them. He who joins our Society gains no siddhis by that act, nor is there any certainty that he will even see the phenomena, let alone meet with an adept. Some have enjoyed both these opportunities, and so the possibility of the phenomena and the existence of “Siddhas” do not rest upon our unverified assertions. Those who have seen things have perhaps been allowed to do so on account of some personal merit detected by those who showed them the siddhis, or for other reasons known to themselves and over which we have no control.
For thousands of years these things have, whether rightly or wrongly, been guarded as sacred mysteries, and Asiatics at least need not be reminded that often even after months or years of the most faithful and assiduous personal service, the disciples of a Yogi have not been shown “miracles” or endowed with powers. What folly, therefore, to imagine that by entering any society one might make a short cut to adeptship! The weary traveller along a strange road is grateful even to find a guide-post that shows him his way to his place of destination. Our Society, if it does naught else, performs this kindly office for the searcher after truth. And it is much.
Before closing, one word must be said in correction of an unfortunate impression that has got abroad. Because our pamphlet of Rules mentions a relationship between our Society and certain proficients in Occult Science, or “Mahatmas ” many persons fancy that these great men are personally engaged in the practical direction of its affairs; and that, in such a case, being primarily responsible for the several mistakes that have occurred in the admission of unworthy members and in other matters, they can neither be so wise, so prudent, or so far-seeing as is claimed for them. It is also imagined that the President and Corresponding Secretary (especially the latter) are, if not actually Yogis and Mahatmas themselves, at least persons of ascetic habits, who assume superior moral excellence. Neither of these suppositions is correct, and both are positively absurd. The administration of the Society is, unless in exceptionally important crises, left to the recognized officials, and they are wholly responsible for all the errors that are made. Many may doubtless have been made, and our management may be very faulty, but the wonder is that no more have occurred, if the multiplicity of duties necessarily imposed upon the two chief officers and the world-wide range of activity be taken into account. Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky do not pretend to ascetism, nor would it be possible for them to practise it while in the thick of the struggle to win a permanent foothold for the Society in the face of every possible obstacle that a selfish, sensuality-loving world puts in the way. What either of them has heretofore been, or either or both may in the future become, is quite a different affair. At present they only claim to be trying honestly and earnestly, so far as their natural infirmities of character permit, to enforce by example and precept the ideas which are embodied in the platform and Rules of the Theosophical Society. Once or twice ill-wishers have publicly taunted us with not having given practical proofs of our alleged affection for India. Our final vindication must be left to posterity, which always renders that justice that the present too often denies. But even now—if we may judge by the tone of our correspondence, as well as by the enthusiasm which has everywhere greeted us in the course of our journeyings—a palpably good effect has been produced by our appeals to the educated Indian public. The moral regeneration of India and the revival of her ancient spiritual glories must exclusively be the work of her own sons. All we can do is to apply the match to the train, to fan the smouldering embers into a genial warmth. And this we are trying to do. One step in the right direction, it will doubtless be conceded, is the alliance effected with the Benares pandits and attested in the subjoined document:
[Here are printed the Articles of the Union formed by the T. S. and the Sanskrit Sabha of Benares, agreeing to cooperation and brotherly union between the two societies, in the interests of the promotion of Sanskrit Literature and Vedic Philosophy and Science; the agreement being signed by the officers and members of the Benares Samaj, and by Col. Olcott as President of the Theosophical Society. H.P.B.’s concluding comment follows:]
These custodians of Sanskrit learning have promised to put in writing the precious treasures of Aryan philosophy, and to cooperate with us to give the facts a worldwide circulation.
The London Spiritualist remarked, the other day, that we were doing much for Spiritualism in India. It might rather be said we are doing much to make known the importance of mesmeric science, for wherever we have been we have spared no pains to show the close and intimate relationship that exists between our modern discoveries in mesmerism, psychometry, and odic force, and the ancient Indian science of Yoga Vidya. We look forward with confidence to a day when the thorough demonstration of this connection will give to both Asia and Europe the basis for a perfect, because experimentally demonstrable, science of Psychology.
1 Secret letters by former members denouncing its Founders, sent to Paris and other Theosophists and pretending that the Bombay Society was virtually extinct (its best members having resigned), were sent back to us with new protestations of friendship and loyalty and expressions of scorn for the conspirators.—(Ed. Theos.)