OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
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THERE was much building to do in 1886, and the sound of the hammer and trowel was heard almost throughout the year. Besides the rebuilding of H. P. B.'s bedroom upstairs, which M. Coulomb had made as rain-proof as a sieve, and the conversion of her first large bedroom into a library for Western literature, we had the work of building the Oriental library to push on with great despatch, so as to have it ready for opening during the Convention. To avoid the encroachment of pillars on our limited floor-space, we had ordered steel girders out from England, and when they were fixed in place, suffered a spasm of anxiety on finding that the weight of the brick terrace caused a deflection of ? in. The span of 27 ft. was a long one, and, in our inexperience, we feared that the terrace might come down by the run someday and perhaps kill somebody, or, what was almost worse, crush the priceless portraits of the Masters into ruin. I think either of us would have consented to death rather than that. But the girders sank to their bearings at last, and the work was hurried on as fast as we could push it. By the end of September, seeing that the library
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would certainly be ready in time, a circular was sent around inviting learned men to contribute poems in Sanskrit, Pali, and Zend for the occasion, and asking our colleagues throughout India and Ceylon to arrange for the priests of their several ancient religions to come and take part in the opening ceremonies, which I meant to be of a character to show the eclectic attitude of the Society towards the various religions of the world. In the literary department there was plenty to do, the editing of the Theosophist being supplemented with the preparation of a handy monograph on Psychometry and Thought-Transference, cataloguing the Western library books, preparing a new edition of the Buddhist Catechism, and other things. Besides which there were lectures to give.
We were all rejoiced by the arrival, on 3rd October, on a visit, of Prince Harisinhji and his family, for, as my readers know, he has always been beloved at Headquarters for his sweet character and loyal friendliness. He has worn as well as any man who has joined us from the beginning. Among Indian princes he is the best as man and friend whom I have met, and if all were like him, religion would be on a far better footing in India than it is in these degenerate days. He stopped with us four weeks, occupying the Riverside bungalow and having his meals prepared by his own servants.
Just before the Prince left Adyar, his sweet wife, the worthy type of the noble Rajput race, gave us a considerable sum of money in her son's name, for the
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erection of a stone gateway of ancient design. Circumstances of one kind and another baffled all our attempts to carry out the idea until quite recently, when we brought from a ruined temple in Southern India the ponderous sculptured pillars and cross-beam which are being erected on the entrance avenue in our grounds. The Princess, her son and elder daughter having died meanwhile, their three names were cut in the crossbeam; and the structure, already 2,000 years old, as surmised, will for ages stand as a tribute of affection to their memory.1
The Overland mail brought me, about this time, a most cordial letter from a Christian Bishop, blessing our Society for what it was doing to stem the tide of scepticism and strengthen the religious spirit; he wished to become a member, and asked permission and directions for forming a T. S. Branch! Fancy that: a Bishop, and his letter stamped with the Episcopal seal. That was something brand new in our experience, for the clergy had for the most part been denouncing us in the pulpit and classifying us as sons of Belial. True, he was black, a fullblooded negro, as his photograph too plainly showed, yet a Bishop, all the same; orthodox, consecrated in the Episcopal or American section of the Anglican Church. His diocese, Haïti. What good results might have followed for our cause it is hard to say, if the Island had not been upset shortly
1 While this book has been going through the press, the Prince Harisinhji, who was present at the Convention in Benares, lost his life from an accident on the morning of January 2, 1903.
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afterward by one of those political revolutions which are so common in Haïti and the South American states.
In November I had by the same mail letters from Dr. Elliott Coues and Mr. Richard Harte, of New York, announcing the collapse of the Society in the United States; the former attributing it to my refusing to play the autocrat, or let him do so, and the latter to Coues having tried to "boss" everybody! My Diary note on them is that “Perhaps both are wrong and the T. S. is not collapsed over there,” the reasonableness of which events have proved.
A flying visit was made between 19th and 22nd November to Cuddapah, where I lectured and formed the Cuddapah T. S.
By the first week of December Sanskrit poems for the Library opening had been received from Benares, Bengal, Bombay, and Madras Pandits; and Sanskrit and Pali verses from the most learned Buddhist priests of Ceylon. About the same time I received from H. P. B., for reading and revision by T. Subba Row and myself, the MS. of Vol. I of The Secret Doctrine; but in his then captious mood the former refused to do more than read it, saying that it was so full of mistakes that if he touched it he should have to rewrite it altogether! This was mere pique, but did good, for when I reported his remark to H. P. B. she was greatly distressed, and set to work and went over the MS. most carefully, correcting many errors due to slipshod literary methods, and with the help of European
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friends making the book what it is now. It must be said of her that she was always most eager to have mistakes pointed out, and most ready to correct them. Especially was that the case with such of 4er writings as were not dictated to her, psychically, by the unseen Helpers who presided over the production of her two great books, Isis and The Secret Doctrine, which will be the Jachin and Boaz of her perpetual monument, a wonder to coming generations.1
The last touches to the Library were being given up to 22nd December, the lovely carved screen which has been the admiration of all visitors was set in place on the 19th, the Picture Room marble floor laid on the same and following day, that of the Library on the 22nd, and then the work was done. The first Delegates arrived on the 21st, and on the same evening I wrote my address for the opening Library ceremony. By
1 I think she would have felt deeply mortified if she had lived to read the scathing and complete exposure of Keely's fraudulent demonstrations of his "Inter-Etheric Force," in her own magazine, The Theosophical Review, for May (1899), after what she had written about it in The Secret Doctrine (i, 556-566, first ed.). She knew nothing personally about Keely, taking her impressions and facts at second hand from a friend at Philadelphia—a shareholder in Keely's original company, and from Mrs. Bloomfield Moore, his enthusiastic disciple and backer; but she did know a great deal about the etheric and other forces and their potentialities, and had often proved, experimentally, her ability to handle them; so, without stopping to test Keely's theories or verify Mrs. Moore's alleged facts, she flew off at a tangent into a most instructive essay on cosmic forces, and by her unguarded half-endorsement of the now proven charlatan, exposed one more large joint in her armour to the shafts of her sneering enemies. But what does it matter; after all? She was just H. P. B., and strode along with us, a giantess in various aspects, though perhaps a gobemouche when accepting unchallenged the statements of those who had too easily won her confidence.
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every train more Delegates came from Bengal, the North-Western and Central Provinces, Bombay, Madras, and Ceylon, until the buildings were full to overflowing. As usual, I wrote my Annual Report on the evening of the 26th, and on the 27th at the fixed time the Convention organised and disposed of its work. This year's session was made memorable by a course of four lectures on the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, by T. Subba Row, which charmed his hearers and, in book form, are now among the most precious treasures of our Theosophical literature. They were a foretaste of the intellectual character which has been stamped upon our Adyar annual meetings by the discourses of Mrs. Besant. On the afternoon of the 27th the Buddhist priest, Medankara, of Ceylon, lectured in Pali, and—a fact which proves the close connection between Pali and Sanskrit—his remarks were interpreted to us in English by the late Adyar Library Pandit Bhashyacharya, who did not know Pali, but understood the speaker perfectly from his own deep knowledge of Sanskrit. A word must be said about this Medankara. He was of the Ramanya Nikâya, a young man, truly holy in his life and aims to a degree that I have never seen equalled among the bhikkus of Ceylon. A part of each year it was his custom to retire into the forest and spend the time in meditation, subsisting on berries and such other food as came in his way. Almost alone among the monks, he believed in the existence of our Masters, and his strongest yearning was to go to Tibet in search of them. He would have started in that very year had I not
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dissuaded him and used all my personal influence with him. He reluctantly went back to Ceylon, but so far from abandoning his project, sent me several urgent requests that I would let him go to the Himâlayas and help him on. But alas! it was not his karma like Damodar's to seek and find the Teacher, for death soon caught him away from our sight, perhaps that he might soon reincarnate in a body better adapted to the accomplishment of his heart's wish.
The Library opening on the 28th was a complete success. Brahmin, Buddhist, and Parsi priests and a Muslim Maulvi participated. The scene was most impressive to a thoughtful mind.
However tinged with sectarian inclinations some of my colleagues may have been and are, even my ill-wishers must do me the justice to say that I have stubbornly opposed all attempts to put forth ex cathedra teachings. In fact, it has been my passion to uphold the platform of tolerance on which H. P. B. and I laid the foundations of the Society in the beginning, and I grasped the chance, which the opening of the Adyar Library offered, to put that idea before the world in a way that could not be misunderstood. Such a thing had never been seen in India as the religious teachers of the antipathetic sects of the East uniting in a ceremony like this; but, for that matter, India had never, before the uprising of the Theosophical Society, seen men of all the castes and Indian sects meeting together to celebrate the anniversaries of a religio-scientific body of foreign inception. We
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have been "making history" in a very real sense ever since we had that momentous drawing-room meeting in New York, when the idea of our Society was first broached by myself and supported by H. P. B., Judge, and others. And now these chapters are collected in book form to serve as a contribution to the history of our movement, it is well for us to recall the incident of the official opening of the Adyar Library on 28th December, 1886.
As stated, priests of Advaita and Visishthadvaita Hinduism, of Southern Buddhism, of Zoroastrianism, and of Islam were in attendance, and, as they were called, mounted the speaker's platform, and with ceremonies appropriate to their several religions, invoked blessings and prosperity on the enterprise. The crowded audience of Asiatics and Europeans showed the deepest interest in the proceedings. Each group of priests, after finishing its part of the programme, left the platform and gave place to the next, we laymen sitting there and watching the events whose like had never been seen or even dreamt of in India before. It was one of the happiest days of my life. A Pandit from Mysore invoked the favor of Ganapati, the god of occult research, and of Sarasvati, the Indian Pallas-Athene, or Minerva, patroness of learning; some boys from one of our Sanskrit schools chanted benedictory verses in the classical language of the Vedas; two Parsi Mobeds offered a prayer to Ahura Mazda and lit the fire of sandalwood in a silver brazier; the saintly Medankara and a colleague intoned the Jayamangalam
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in Pali; and a Muslim Maulvi from Hyderabad, with strong, clear voice, recited a prayer from the Koran. Then followed my official discourse, of which the following extracts are made from the report of the Madras Mail:
"We are met together, Ladies and Gentlemen, upon an occasion that is likely to possess an historical interest in the world of modern culture. The foundation of a Library of such a character as this is among the rarest of events, if, indeed, it be not unique in modern times. We need not enumerate the great libraries of Western cities, with their millions of volumes, for they are, rather, huge storehouses of books; not the collections of Oriental literature at the India Office, and in the Royal and National Museums of Europe; nor even the famed Saraswati Mahal, of Tanjore: all these have a character different from our Adyar Library, and do not compete with it. Ours has a definite purpose behind it, a specific line of utility marked out for it from the beginning. It is to be an adjunct to the work of the Theosophical Society; a means of helping to effect the object for which the Society was founded, and which is clearly stated in its constitution. Of the three declared aims of our Society—
"The first is: 'To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, or color.'
"The second: 'To promote the study of Aryan and other Eastern literatures, religions, and sciences. '
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"The first is the indispensable antecedent to the second, as the latter is the logical consequence of the former. It would be impracticable to bring about any friendly co-operation by the learned of the several ancient faiths and races for the study of comparative religion and archaic philosophy and science, without first getting them to consent to work in mutual kindliness; and, on the other hand, the establishment of this fraternal spirit would naturally stimulate research into the records of the past, to discover, if possible, the basis of religious thought and human aspiration. Strife comes of mutual misunderstanding and prejudice, as unity results from the discovery of basic truth. Our Society is an agency of peace and enlightenment, and in founding this Library is but carrying out its policy of universal goodwill. We want, not so much number of books, as books of a useful sort for our purposes. We wish to make it a monument of ancestral learning, but of the kind that is of most practical use to the world. We do not desire to crowd our shelves with tons of profitless casuistical speculations, but to gather together the best religious, moral, practical, and philosophical teachings of the ancient sages. We aim to collect whatever can be found in the literature of yore upon the laws of nature, the principles of science, the rules and processes of useful arts. Some Aryaphiles are thoroughly convinced that the forefathers had rummaged through the whole domain of human thought, had formulated all philosophical problems, sounded all depths and scaled all heights of human nature, and discovered
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most, if not all, hidden properties of plants and minerals and laws of vitality: we wish to know how much of this is true. There are some so ignorant of the facts as to affirm their disbelief in the learning of the ancients and the value of the contents of the old books. To them, the dawn of human wisdom is just breaking, and in the Western sky. Two centuries ago—as Flammarion tells us—the Jesuits, Schillers, and Bayers proposed to have the stars and constellations rechristened with Christian instead of Pagan names: the Sun was to be called Christ; the Moon, Mary Virgin; Saturn, Adam; Jupiter, Moses; etc., etc.: the orbs would have shone none the less brightly, and sectarianism would have been gratified! In something of the same spirit, some of our improved Aryans seem disposed to obliterate the good old orbs of knowledge and set up new ones—putting out Vyasa, Manu, Sankara, Kapila, and Patanjali, the Aryan luminaries; and lighting up Comte, Haeckel, Huxley, Spencer, and Mill. It would not be so reprehensible if they would be content to see all great and shining lights
. . . admitted to that equal sky.
We are all for progress and reform, no doubt, but it is yet to be proved that it is a good plan to throw away a valuable patrimony to clutch at a foreign legacy. For my part, I cannot help thinking that if our clever graduates knew as much about Sanskrit, Zend, and Pali literature as they do of English, the Rishis would have more, and modern biologists less,
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reverence. Upon that impression, at any rate, this Adyar Library is being founded.
"With the combined labor of Eastern and Western scholars, we hope to bring to light and publish much valuable knowledge now stored away in the ancient languages, or, if rendered into Asiatic vernaculars, still beyond the reach of the thousands of earnest students who are only familiar with the Greek and Latin classics and their European derivative tongues. There is a widespread conviction that many excellent secrets of chemistry, metallurgy, medicine, industrial arts, meteorology, agriculture, animal breeding and training, architecture, engineering, botany, mineralogy, astrology, etc., known to former generations, have been forgotten, but may be recovered from their literary remains. Some go so far as to affirm that the old sages had a comprehensive knowledge of the law of human development, based upon experimental research. I confess that I am one of such, and that I am more and more persuaded that the outcome of modern biological research will be the verification of the Secret or Esoteric Philosophy. This firm conviction has made me so anxious to begin as soon as possible, while we are in health and strength, the gathering together of the present Library, and it shall not be my fault if it does not achieve its object within the lifetime of the majority of the present audience. If the ancient books are as valuable as some allege, the sooner we prove it the better; if they are not, we cannot discover the fact too speedily. That intellectual marvel of our times,
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Sir William Jones; had a better opinion of the merit of Sanskrit literature than our improved Aryans, it would appear. 'I can venture to affirm,' says he, in his Discourse before the Asiatic Society, delivered at Calcutta, February 20th; 1794-'I can venture to affirm, without meaning to pluck a leaf from the never-fading laurels of our immortal Newton, that the whole of his theology, and part of his philosophy, may be found in the Vedas, and even in the works of the Sufis. The most subtle spirit, which he suspected to pervade natural bodies, and, lying concealed in them, to cause attraction and repulsion; the emission, reflection, and refraction of light; electricity, calefaction, sensation, and muscular motion, is described by the Hindus as a fifth element, endued with those very powers; and the Vedas abound with allusions to a force universally attractive, which they chiefly ascribe to the Sun, thence called Aditya, or the Attractor.' Of Sri Shankara's commentary upon the Vedanta, he says that 'it is not possible to speak with too much applause of so excellent a work; and I am confident in asserting that, until an accurate translation of it shall appear in some European language, the general history of philosophy must remain incomplete'; and he further affirms that 'one correct version of any celebrated Hindu book would be of greater value than all the dissertations or essays that could be composed on the same subject'.
"An entire Upanishad is devoted to a description of the internal parts of the body—an enumeration of
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the nerves, veins, and arteries; a description of the heart, spleen, and liver, and of pre-natal development of the embryo. If you will consult the most recent medical authorities, you will find the very remarkable fact—one recently brought to my notice by a medical member of our Society—that the course of the sushumna, or spinal tube, which, according to the Aryan books, connects the various chakrams, or psychic evolutionary centres in the human body, can be traced from the brain to the os coccyx: in fact, my friend has kindly shown me a section of it under a strong lens. Who knows, then, what strange biological and psychical discoveries may be waiting to crown the intelligent researches of the modern anatomist and physiologist who is not above consulting the Aryan text-books? 'There are not in any language (save the ancient Hebrew),' says Sir William Jones, more 'pious and sublime addresses to the Being of beings, more splendid enumerations of his attributes, or more beautiful descriptions of his visible works, than in Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit.' But the theme is inexhaustible, and I must resist the temptation to collate the many accessible testimonies of some of the greatest scholars of our own time to the richness, value, and interest of the ancient books of Asia. In Europe and America these profound students and thinkers are working patiently, in sympathetic collaboration with colleagues, Asiatic and European, in India, Ceylon, Burma, Japan, China, Egypt, Assyria, and other Eastern countries.
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"You will observe, Ladies and Gentlemen, from what precedes, that the Library we are now founding is neither meant to be a mere repository of books, nor a training school for human parrots who, like some modern Pandits, mechanically learn their thousands of verses and lacs of lines without being able to explain, or perhaps even understand, the meaning; nor an agency to promote the particular interests of some one faith or sectarian subdivision of the same; or as a vehicle for the vain display of literary proficiency. Its object is to help to revive Oriental literature; to re-establish the dignity of the true Pandit, Mobed, Bhikshu, and Maulvi; to win the regard of educated men, especially that of the rising generation for the sages of old, their teachings, their wisdom, their noble example; to assist, as far as may be, in bringing about a more intimate relation, a better mutual appreciation, between the literary workers of the two hemispheres. Our means are small, but sincere motive and patient industry may offset that in time, and we trust to deserve public confidence. As an example of one branch of the work we have mapped out for ourselves, I beg to ask your present acceptance of copies of a catechetical synthesis of that branch of Hindu religious philosophy known as the Dwaita Doctrine of Sri Madhwacharya.
The compiler, our learned and respected townsman M.R.Ry. P. Sreenivas Row, intends to follow this up with similar works upon the other two great religious schools of the Vishishthadwaita and Adwaita, founded respectively by Sri Ramanuja Acharya and
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Sri Sankaracharya. The Buddhist Catechism—of copies of which, in the name of Mrs; Ilangakoon, a worthy Buddhist lady of Ceylon, I also ask your acceptance—will be succeeded, as my time shall permit, by catechisms of the Zoroastrian and Mahomedan faiths, written from the standing-points of followers of those religions respectively.
"On behalf of the subscribers to the Library Fund, and of the General Council of the Theosophical Society, I now invoke upon this undertaking the blessing of all Divine powers and of all other lovers of truth, I dedicate it to the service of mankind, and I now declare it founded and duly opened."
The reader will see in this inauguration discourse the groundwork laid for that Oriental Institute which it is our hope to bring into existence at Adyar in the fulness of time. The work is, in point of fact, already half done. We have (a) in the Headquarters property buildings and grounds that leave but little. to be desired; (b) five dwelling-houses in the Indian style for the free use of Library Pandits; (c) a large bathing-tank for castemen; (d) large permanent outdoor brick dining-floors for use at any time; (e) large wells of pure, sweet water; (f) two libraries of Oriental and Western books, with shelf-room for 10,000 more; (g) a superb meeting and lecture-hall and commodious classrooms; (h) bedrooms for European staff officers; (i) a tidal river under the house windows which cools the air, the blue sea a half-mile off in full sight, from which fresh breezes blow towards us daily, and groves of cocoanut palm,
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mango, banyan, and coniferous trees to give shady walks and retreats to those who incline towards meditation; (j) towards the £20,000 capital, without which it would be childish for me to float the scheme, we have Rs. 25,000 of Permanent Fund invested; the possible proceeds of the White Bequest, which within the next few years may (so thinks the executor, Mr. Barnes) give us some £8,000 but which cannot now be counted as an asset; and the capital, stock, and income of the Theosophist and other belongings which have been bequeathed to the Society. Little as these may seem at first sight, yet no one can deny that the prospects of the Adyar Oriental Institute are infinitely better than they were on that opening day in 1886, when the Library's carven doors were swung open for the first time, and my inaugural address was delivered before that mixed audience of people of many races and various creeds. Any day, some enlightened and philanthropic friend may send me what is lacking to start the Institute on a sound financial footing; in fact, I am sure of it.
Most of the Delegates stayed over for T. Subba Row's fourth and last lecture on the Gîtâ, on the morning of the 30th, which was a masterpiece of literary and oratorical ability; after which the crowd melted away, and when the year 1886 closed, the house was restored to its normal quiet. Thus ended the eleventh annual chapter of the Society's history.