Questions and Answers
The Path, November & December, 1895; February & March, 1896
M.—I read in the New York Sun in October an editorial on the Maha Bodhi Society of Calcutta which designed to restore Buddha-Gya to the Buddhists and spread Buddhism. Although the article was full of chaff yet I thought there must be something underneath. Is that Society a Theosophical Section? Does Buddhism grow in America?
Answer—The Maha Bodhi Society is, in my opinion, more of a real-estate venture, for sentiment however and not for gain. Col. H. S. Olcott is its Honorary Director and intended, as a professed Buddhist, to make great efforts towards raising the large sum needed to put the property in Buddhist hands, this being the main object. The Secretary is Dharmapala, an F.T.S. But the Society is not a Theosophical Section. It cannot be successfully held that the getting of property and a temple is Buddhism, for that religion teaches asceticism, poverty and renunciation of material things. Certainly Buddha would not have his followers waste their energies on such a venture. They did not do it in his lifetime.
Buddhism does not grow in America, though many persons call themselves Buddhists. Some doctrines, which are not only Buddhistic but also Brahmanic, have been widely spread, and it is easier to say one is a Buddhist than Brahmanical. To be a Brahmin you must be born in that sort of family; to profess Brahmanism and not be able to explain its complicated system is disgraceful. Besides this, the popular poem by Arnold, The Light of Asia, has given currency to the term Buddhism all over the land, whereas but few know what the other oriental religions are. The useful doctrines of both Buddhism and Brahmanism are believed in by many as a result of the wide and systematic propaganda of the Theosophical Society in America. Reincarnation, karma, devachan and the rest, are in both religions, but to believe them does not make a man a Buddhist. And if the people knew fully the superstitions and absurdities of those two old religions they would never call themselves by either name. It cannot be possible that the Buddhism of today will ever be adopted, as such, by any western nation; but the doctrines promulgated by Theosophists will so mould the coming mind that the new religion will be a theosophical one.
Now and then there appears in some newspaper an article giving false statements about Buddhism in America. The writers have heard so much about theosophical doctrines,— which they do not understand and which they label Buddhist because, perhaps, all they ever knew of the religion they obtained from the Light of Asia,—that they put down all Theosophists as Buddhists. But were you to consult the agent in New York of the Buddha-Gya movement you would discover how few Buddhists there are here.
As another correspondent asks for the principal reason why the West will not adopt Buddhism, I will reply to that now.
One of the main teachings of Buddha was that any kind of existence is a misery. It is misery to be born either as man or deva, because this involves a perpetual series of reincarnations which may be happy or unfavorable as happens. To escape this, Nirvana is offered. Of course I am not now speaking of other doctrines the educated may understand. This one is for the multitude. Now the western people will not accept this pessimistic view of life, and when they come to know that that is Buddhism they will not take the religion.
A.P.—Have you any idea of the proportion between the population of India and the members of the T.S. there?
Answer—There are 360 millions of people in India, and there are 90 Theosophical Societies there. As only about 40 of the latter are active we can conclude there are not 3000 F.T.S. in India. The rest of the 360 millions, except those who read English, know nothing of the Society. The major part of the people do not read English. Hence hundreds of millions are uninfluenced by theosophical propaganda. Of course it is the custom for the reports emanating from Adyar to speak of hundreds of Branches there; this is possible by counting in the hundred and more dead Branches existing only on paper for the authorities disliked to cut off from the roll the dead ones as is done in America.
T.H.—I would like to have a concrete practice pointed out to me as something to begin with in self-discipline.
Answer—Begin by trying to conquer the habit, almost universal, of pushing yourself forward. This arises from personality. Do not monopolize the conversation. Keep in the background. If someone begins to tell you about himself and his doings do not take first chance to tell him about yourself, but listen to him and talk solely to bring him out. And when he has finished suppress in yourself the desire to tell about yourself, your opinions and your experiences. Do not ask a question unless you intend to listen to the answer and inquire into its value. Try to recollect that you are a very small affair in the world, and that the people around do not value you at all and grieve not when you are absent. Your only greatness lies in your inner true self and it is not desirous of obtaining the applause of others. If you will follow these directions for one week you will find they will take considerable effort, and you will begin to discover a part of the meaning of the saying, “Man, know thyself.”
T.T.—In the November PATH there is a reply about Buddhism. May I ask whether reference was intended to the outside exoteric form of the religion or to the esoteric side?
The answer was intended to refer solely to outer forms of Buddhism, because the esoteric teachings of Buddha, if known, would undoubtedly be found to be the same as those of Jesus and the Brahmans-since we hold that both had secret doctrines for the few. The old Jews had their secret religion-the Kaballah—and Jesus, following his Jewish teachers, taught his disciples many things in private which were not recorded. But there is a good deal of evidence that that secret teaching was in all probability like Gnosticism. What Buddha secretly taught we do not know.
If all the superstitions and gross absurdities of outer Buddhism were fully known in the West you would see why it will not be adopted; just as you would be convinced that we will not adopt Brahmanism either, with all its idolatry and superstitions.
E.M.—Has the identity of Chew-Yew-Tsang been revealed? When I was in London the people in the TS. centre there were wild about him and some said he was an Adept. What is the truth about this?
Chew-Yew-Tsang was a nom-de-plume adopted by Mr. E. T. Hargrove, who is now lecturing for us here. He had some good ideas and sent them to Lucifer over that name. Many did go wild over the articles, especially its sub-editor. In time it was divulged who the author was and then the amusing part happened. The disputes about some charges in the Society were raging and Mr. Hargrove sided with the defendant. So those who had admired Chew, almost fallen at his symbolical feet, who had engrossed some of his sentences and hung them on the wall, arose quite angry at being led into praising the writing of such a young man—in fact it was a sort of reunion for the purpose of “eating crow.” If there was any Adept in the matter he was in the far background and has not yet divulged himself. But it remains that the articles by Chew are well written and inspiring.
B.—Some of those who refused to agree to our proceedings at Boston Convention are feeling hurt because in the PATH they have been slightingly referred to, as they think. Is it not better to be as kind as possible to all of them?
It is always best to be as kind as possible to friends and enemies, to those who are with us as to those who remain neutral. If the PATH was unkind it sincerely apologizes for such a fault. In going over the ground after a very short struggle in which the small minority is of course beaten, the detailing of facts for information of the great constituency which could not attend the festivities, it is very natural that something unpleasant would take place—for bald facts are sometimes not agreeable. So the PATH writer—and it was not the Editor—merely intended to point out that in some cases the bolting branch would be found to be one of those which had never been or the slightest use—in one case such a branch had been dead a year—and in others that the really earnest and devoted workers were not those who bolted after the Boston vote.
And indeed this magazine was very much milder in the matter than Col. H. S. Olcott himself. He declared it seemed as if all the best brain and energy of the American movement had gone with the vote and with that dreadful person—
P.B.—The other evening, after a day of great activity, and being very tired, not thinking of my friend X, but rather of the passing business I had been in, I had a vision suddenly of X with whom I seemed to have a long conversation of benefit to both. Now how was this when I had not been thinking of him at all?
In the first place, experience shows, and those who know the laws of such matters say, that the fact of not having thought of a person is not a cause for preventing one from seeing the person in dream or vision. It makes no difference if you haven’t thought of the person for twenty years.
Secondly, being wearied and much occupied during the day with absorbing business is in general likely to furnish just the condition in you for a vision or dream of a person or a place you have not thought of for a long time. But extreme and absolute fatigue, going to the extreme, is likely to plunge one into such a deep sleep as to prevent any such experience.
In consequence of bodily and brain fatigue those organs are temporarily paralyzed, sometimes, just enough to allow some of the astral senses to work. We then have a vision or dream of place or person, all depending upon the extent to which the inner astral person is able to impress the material brain cells. Sometimes it is forgotten save as the mere trace of something that took place but cannot be identified. When we are awake and active the brain has such a hold on the astral body that the latter (very fortunately) can work only with the brain and as that organ dictates. And when we fall naturally, unfatigued, into the state when it might be supposed we would have a vision, it does not come. But the pictures and recollections of ,the day pass before us because the brain is not tired enough to give up its hold on the ‘astral body. Fatigue, however, ‘stills the imperative brain and it releases its hold.
A.M.—Who is your authority for the statement in November PATH that there are only about 90 active branches in India of which only about 40 have activity?
First, Mr. B. Keightley, who, as General Secretary there, reported—and it was so printed in the Theosophist—to the effect stated. In fact his report was even worse. Secondly, a member who had been at Adyar many months helping with reports and accounts. He stated not much over a year ago that it was as I have said. In fact it now is a thoroughly well known fact that the great parade of branches in India—some hundreds—is all a show, just like counting in your assets and reporting as alive a lot of long dead and valueless bonds or scrip. These other branches have long been dead and ought to have been taken off the record. But the presiding genius likes to parade the names of back numbers so as to make a noise. We and the American public have been too long deluded about this flock of theosophical doves over there which are mere phantasms.
C.—I have heard some members talking about attracting elementals, and of this or that place being full of elementals. Not seeing these beings myself, and not knowing much about it, I would like to know if the phrases used are correct.
Answer—It is quite probable that these persons never saw an elemental, and know still less, perhaps, than yourself of the subject and of the laws that may govern such entities. So do not be abashed by their assumption of knowledge. It is incorrect to talk of one place being more full of elementals than another place. We might as well say there is more of space in one spat of space than another. Elementals are everywhere, just as animalculæ fill the air; they obey the laws peculiar to themselves, and move in the currents of ether. If now and then they make themselves manifest, it does not hence follow that additional number have been attracted to the spot, but only that conditions have altered so as to cause some disturbance.
T.C. and F.O.R.—In some formerly published articles something is said of a future date marking the withdrawal of certain portions of the influence of the Adepts, and that those who have not gotten past the obstacles before that will have to wait until next incarnation. Is it necessary that one should be aware of having passed sufficiently far; must one be conscious of it? If so, I, for one, am “not in it.”
Answer—It is not necessary to be conscious of the progress one has made. Nor is the date in any sense an extinguisher, as some have styled it. In these days we are too prone to wish to know everything all at once, especially in relation to ourselves. It may be desirable and encouraging to be thus conscious, but it is not necessary. We make a good deal of progress in our inner, hidden life of which we are not at all conscious. We may not know of it until some later life. So in this case many may be quite beyond the obstacles and not be conscious of it. It is best to go on with duty, and to refrain from this trying to take stock and measuring of progress. All of our progress is in the inner nature, and not in the physical where lives the brain, and from which the present question comes. The apparent physical progress is evanescent. It is ended when the body dies, at which time, if the inner man has not been allowed to guide us, the natural record against us will be a cipher, or “failure.” Now, as the great Adepts live in the plane of our inner nature, it must follow that they might be actively helping every one of us after the date referred to, and we, as physical brain men, not be conscious of it on this plane.
M.G.T.S.—Will you kindly advise me in question department, how to strike the happy medium between Egoism or Egotism and the development of inner selfhood?
Answer—This question cannot be properly answered, because you have put an indefinite question. It is not clear what you mean by a happy medium between development and the Self or Ego. The happy medium is generally between two courses. If by Egotism you mean the personal lower self, then it is said by all sages that there is continual war between it and the Higher Self until one or the other is the victor. As also what you mean by “Inner Selfhood” is indefinite, no reply based on that term, that would be useful, could be made. But if you want to know how to make a compromise, so to say, between the lower self—for that is what I assume your terms Egoism and Egotism to mean—it can only be pointed out that there can be no such truce: if attempted it would merely mean that the lower self would remain master, and the Higher Self wait for a new and better resolution. This is the state of most people, ever compromising, always allowing the lower self to have the upper hand, forever waiting for some later day when they intend to give the Higher the reins of government,—but that day will never come under such a course.
D.—The recent death of Henry J. Newton following close on letters he sent the newspapers about the T.S. arouses the question, Was he ever president of it, and what is there in the assertion he made that the Society was founded at his house?
Answer—He was its early treasurer, but never president. Like the many other spiritualists who joined and resigned quite soon, he departed also. The Society was not founded at his house. He published lately a facsimile of a pledge of secrecy in the Society signed by Mme. Blavatsky, Olcott and others, asserting this to be the beginning. This is a mistake of an old man with a bad memory. The pledge was a special one prepared in anticipation of promised wonderful revelations by a false pretender, and as the whole thing fell through, those papers were left with Newton because nobody cared for them. At the time, H.P.B. said to me that no revelations of any consequence would be made by the person, who was imposing on our spiritualistic members. Among other papers Mr. Newton had the roll, of course, because he was treasurer and used it for sending bills for dues. These documents he kept and refused to give them up to the Society. But the original minutes of organization, and other meetings, are in possession of loyal members in New York, and contradict Mr. Newton’s assertion.
J.H.M.—On page 234 of the November issue it is stated that parentage is not merely for bringing an Ego into this life, but for wider and greater reasons. Please say what some of these reasons are.
Answer—If it is held that parentage is only and solely for the purpose of furnishing a body for an Ego, then responsibility of parent to child is at an end, and the child also is relieved of all obligations and responsibilities to the parents. This view is held by some, and, sad to say, by some of those F.T.S. who follow mechanical Theosophy. To my mind it is a monstrous proposition. It would also negative the doctrine of Karma and destroy the vast and wonderful continuity of things and forces relating to the human being. The child has far-reaching karmic relations with the parents, as they also with the child. The discipline and joys that come through children are karmic on both sides. If the child is a wicked one, it is the Karma of the parents also. Again, the incoming Ego requires a certain line of family so as to get the needed sort of body. In many and various ways, then, parentage can be seen to be more than a mere door to this plane.
B.R.C.—I am unable to lecture; I cannot write good papers, and I do not seem to learn much at branch meetings. Is it any use for me to attend them?
Answer—It must largely depend on your motive for attendance and on your actual interest. Do you go to learn or to help? If you go to learn, it is written by H.P.B that half a dozen people meeting regularly and working harmoniously can learn more in six months than a solitary student can in two years. If you go there to help, the answer is different. If you believe in the power of thought, any experienced lecturer will tell you what an immense help it is to have even one intelligent and sympathetic listener; you not only give him ideas but you help also the enquirers present, by your sympathetic thought, to understand what is said. Wherever you are, you are a centre of force, and it is your own fault if you are useless anywhere.
E. E. KNIGHT.—Please inform me where I can find out about the meaning of the Society’s emblem, and also about the many other signs and hieroglyphs found in our books.
Answer—In the first volume of the PATH (May, 1886, p. 51) you will find an article on the subject of Theosophical symbolism. But in order to find out all you want it will be necessary to wade through many books, because the subject is so large and difficult. In H.P.B.’s Secret Doctrine there is a great deal about symbols, and that is one of the best places to look. Your questions cover so many departments of symbolism that they could not be answered here, as proper treatment would mean the writing of a book.