Correct Definitions and Incorrect Insinuations
Theosophist, March, 1882
A wise and just interpretation of the main objects of our Society was given by our esteemed contemporary the Mahratta of Poona in its issue of January 22. Says the editorial:—
“When we reduce the definition of Theosophy to the simplest form, we find that Theosophy is nothing but waking up natives to know and to feel that they are natives. If we are right, in defining Theosophy, and we hope we are, Theosophy appears to approach nearer the future religion of India, than does Christianity or any other foreign religion. Theosophy, so far as we have been able to know, tries to create nothing new, casts no slur upon any religion of India, and above all, is intended to keep the fire of nationality alive in the breast of every native. One’s religion, caste and creed are ever dear to him, and, if any attempts are desirable to create anything like an Indian nation made of one people, professing the same caste, speaking the same language, fired by the same love of their country, hankering after the same goal of ambition, having the same likes and same dislikes, in short, it can only be done by infusing a feeling of Universal Brotherhood. Theosophy, unlike Christianity, tries to bring about the consummation, devoutly to be wished, not by destroying but by constructing the materials at present existing in India. Colonel Olcott, Madame Blavatsky, and their brother Theosophists, naturally, therefore, resent any insult given to us, our ancient religions and institutions.”
We heartily thank our colleagues of the Mahratta for these kind and profoundly true words. They are right; and that paper is thus one of the first, though we sincerely hope it will not be the last, to appreciate, at their correct value, our humble but unselfish and untiring efforts toward the realization (however partial) of that which has hitherto been always regarded by the pessimists as a vain glorious utopia. That our labor—a labor of love though it be, yet one which had, since its very beginning, to be carried on by its pioneers through thorny and rocky paths—begins to be appreciated by the natives, is our best reward. Evidently our Aryan Brothers commence perceiving that our Society is not quite the dark plotting centre full of man-traps and threatening secret motives it is usually represented to be, by our cruelest enemies; nor is its work confined to, or solely bent upon, bringing the natives back to “degrading beliefs and superstitions in an anthropomorphic and now long exploded supernaturalism”—as some other less cruel, still uncompromising opponents of ours would maintain, ignorantly pronouncing both the Theosophical movement and our occult experiments (the latter indeed but a very small part of its work) no better than a delusion and a snare.
Then, there is another of our friendly and patriotic contemporaries, Amrita Bazaar Patrika, also noticing the Society and showing as kind an appreciation of our work as we can ever hope for, by saying that:—“The society has done one great good, and we feel that even here, in Bengal. People have learnt to respect their forefathers, and their philosophy, their civilization and religion.” And “The anniversary ceremony of the Theosophical Society was a very successful one this year. We wish our educated men would lay to heart the sage counsels of Colonel Olcott, the President-Founder of the Society.”
Thus, to refute the ignorant and malevolent insinuations of the Materialists, and the no less ignorant, and perchance, still more malevolent accusations of some Spiritualists, we have but to refer them to some native papers in India and to the hundreds of letters we receive from all parts of the great Peninsula, thanking us—some enthusiastically—for the “great work of national regeneration” we have undertaken. So strong is the animus of the Spiritualists against us whom they ought to regard—were they wise—and treat as their Brothers, that seldom do we receive our weekly number of the Spiritualist without finding in it half a dozen malicious flings at the Theosophists. Thus the Spiritualist of January 13—a number nearly entirely devoted to Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky, the former being taken to task for his “Elementaries,” and the latter for her “spiritual selfishness” 1 —opens with an editorial “A Blot in Buddha’s Life.” We have rarely come across a column in which the subject treated was made so transparently subservient to the animus of the author, directed against the object of his attack. The great Buddha, and the alleged desertion of his young wife are used as a weapon to hit our President with. “Colonel Olcott, formerly a Spiritualist, afterwards a Theosophist, seems now to have turned a Buddhist, for he has been establishing Buddhist schools in Ceylon, and has written a Buddhist Catechism which is circulating extensively in India . . .” Hence—the fling at Buddha—“the great religious teacher of Eastern nations” from no admirer of whom—“have we ever heard any comment upon a dark feature of Buddha’s life, assuming for the moment that he ever lived at all and that his supposed career is not a myth.” Thus, rather assume utter ignorance of an historical fact 2 than miss an opportunity of hitting (as he hopes but fails to) Colonel Olcott, who from a Spiritualist and a Theosophist has “turned Buddhist.” We pity the writer, capable of exhibiting such a spirit of narrow-minded vindictiveness, that it crowds out entirely, even to an appearance of logical reasoning in him. Just as though a Buddhist could not be at the same time a Theosophist and even a Spiritualist! The writer is cordially invited to add to the above three appellations those of a Brahmin and a Parsi, as Colonel Olcott, notwithstanding his Buddhist religion, works with as much fervour for the regeneration and purification of dying Brahminism and Zoroastrianism as he does for his co-religionists. Having laid the foundation of a national Buddhist Fund for the spread of education in Ceylon, he is preparing to do the same for the Hindus and Parsis. We are a “Universal Brotherhood,” let it be remembered. Our Society represents no one faith or race, but every faith as every race; and each of those “heathen” who join us, 3 because of their mystical and religious inclinations, do so with an ardent object of understanding the hidden beauties of their ancient and respective creeds the better; with a hope of fathoming—by breaking through the thick crust of bigoted dogma—the depths of true religious and spiritual thought. And, as each of them dives into the apparently fathomless abyss of metaphysical abstractions and Eastern symbology, and clears away the accumulated rubbish of the ages, he discovers that one and the same TRUTH underlies them all. In what other religion of our day can be found the noble universal tolerance for all other faiths such as taught in Buddhism? What other creed enforces such practical proofs of brotherly love and mutual toleration better or more effectually than does the godless faith preached by the Holy Master Sakya-Muni? Truly might we repeat with Professor Max Müller, that there are sentences in the inscriptions of King Asoka “which might be read with advantage by our own missionaries, though they are now more than 2000 years old.” Such inscriptions on the rocks of Girnar, Dhauli and Kapurdigiri as—
“Piyadasi, the king beloved of the gods, desires that the ascetics of all creeds might reside in all places. All these ascetics profess alike the command which people should exercise over themselves and the purity of the soul. But people have different opinions and different inclinations.”
“A man ought to honour his faith; but he should never abuse the faith of others . . . There are even circumstances where the religion of others ought to be honoured. And in acting thus, a man fortifies his own faith and assists the faith of others.”
Had our President found in Christianity and Spiritualism the same precepts practically exemplified, he might, perhaps, at this hour, have remained as he was. Having found in both, however, nought but dogmatism, bigotry and an unrelenting spirit of persecution, he turned to that which to him appears the consummation of the ideal of brotherly love and of freedom of thought for all.
We regret then to find the spirit of such dogmatic intolerance in a leading spiritual paper advocating a movement which professes to be an improvement upon sectarian Christianity. It throws no additional lustre upon the writer; but repeating his words: “Rather the reverse.”
1. To make his point a little clearer, and our “Selfishness” the more apparent, the “inspired” writer ought to have used at least the word “Theosophical” instead of “Spiritual.” The title of his article pays back the compliment in the same coin to the Spiritualists themselves.
2. We advise the writer of the editorial to turn to Prof. Max Müller’s Chips, Vol. I, p. 219, Art. “Buddhism,” in which the learned Sanskritist established “the true historical character” of the Founder of Buddhism and takes to task even Sir W. Jones for his identifying Buddha with mythical heroes.
3. Many are those who join for quite different and various objects. We speak here but of the mystics.