OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
H. P. B. FOUNDS "LUCIFER"
THE disturbing factor in our Indian Branch formation is, as above noticed, the constant transfer of Government servants from one station to another. This makes it always impossible to forecast the term of a Branch's activity, as that depends upon the length of stay at the station of the one, two, or three leading sprits who caused the Branch to come into being, lead its members in Theosophical work, and make it seem to their colleagues that without them the Branch must collapse. For this reason it is always wise, where possible, to put residents of the town, such as pleaders, merchants, doctors, or teachers, not in Government service, into the offices of President and Secretary, when the cleverer or more enthusiastic Government employé is likely to be transferred within the next few months. But, if the system of transfers sometimes causes the temporary collapse of Branches, it also tends to the resuscitation of collapsed Branches or the formation of new ones by the transfer of these precious Theosophical workers to stations where their help is most needed. So moves on this ponderous Indian official machine, and, concomitantly, the Theosophical movement in India surges ahead, ever broadening and
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strengthening, ever settling down upon the strong foundations which we have laid for it in the Indian heart.
The foregoing remarks are apropos of the languishing states in which I found the Nagpur T.S. and the Sanskrit School, for whose upkeep I had raised a generous sum at a public meeting two years previously. Several of our best working members had been transferred.
I reached Benares again on May 9th (1887), and was most kindly received at the station and put up in a garden-house of Babu B. S. Bhattacharji, of Gaya, a candidate for membership in our Sociery. I stopped here three full days, visited the late venerable Swami Bhaskarananda, whose welcome to me was most cordial, and Mâji, the Yogînî. One lecture at the Town Hall on "The Book of Chitragupta" was my only public appearance this time, and on the 12th I went on to Allahabad—now like a banquet-hall deserted, after the departure of the Sinnetts, in whose house had been the old local focus of the moment. Without them and without H.P.B. the town seemed empty. In fact, this tearing away of H.P.B. from me was constantly brought up in my mind by visiting the stations where she and I had been together, having our first Indian experiences and dreaming over dreams for the revival of Eastern learning and religion. One would need to have been so closely joined to her as I was in this world-work, to realise what it must have been to me to go over the old ground and see the old faces of friends.
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Ahi! Ahi! a Lanoo, these meetings and partings are fraught with sorrow. But you and I know how many ages we have worked together under the guidance of the One; how many more of like relationships lie before us. Vale, Salve!
The heat? Awful, wilting, metal-melting. I went to see my friend the Swami Madhavdas, the compiler of Sayings of Grecian Sages, and had an agreeable talk with that good Sage. My rooms were thronged daily with conundrum-asking young metaphysicians and amateur agnostics, whose ardor was not damped by the rise of the mercury. On the 15th I lectured at the Kyastha Patshâla on "The Other World," but in so weak a condition of body that I had to sit during the last half of the discourse. This was the immediate result of dysenteric symptoms brought on by indigestible food, aggravated by the intense, debilitating heat. The next day I was worse, and felt so used up that my friends begged me to stay quite a few days; but I could not afford to waste time with so long an itinerary before me, so I went on to Cawnpore, arrived there at 5 p.m., and was most affectionately welcomed. They put me up at the large bungalow of H. H. the Maharajah of Burdwan, where Damodar and I stopped in 1883, and at which occurred the convincing phenomenon of the introduction into my locked tin office-box of a letter from one of the Masters, which was described in an earlier chapter. Dr. Mahendranath Ganguli, F.T.S., finding me so weak, strongly recommended my taking chicken broth, which, after some
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hesitation, I did, thus breaking the vegetarian course of diet which I had been following for several years. The effect was instantaneous, my physical strength poured into me in full force, and by the next day I was quite recovered. From that time on I did not return to vegetable diet until about two years ago, when I did so on the advice of the French clairvoyant, Mme. Mongruel (queerly appropriate name for the occasion!), with the happiest results. A Hindu banquet to forty Bengali gentlemen, given in my honor by Babu Nilmadab Banerji on the same day, and a second lecture on the next, followed, and at midnight I took train for Aligarh, where three days were spent profitably in the usual way. Next came Bulandshahr. I was here publicly insulted by a boorish civilian, my first experience of the kind in India. This man was a bigoted cad wholly ignorant of Indian literature, correspondingly intolerant, and devoid of good breeding. However, I settled him, to the satisfaction of my audience. The weather was now so hot and the audiences so uncomfortably large, that we held our meetings out of doors whenever possible, carpets and mats being spread on the grass, and chairs placed for the more important personages, durbar fashion, in parallel lines facing each other. Meerut and then Hardwar, the pilgrimage resort at the head waters of the sacred Ganges, came next. A great Sanskrit Revival Convention was sitting, at the latter place, at the call of the aged Dewan Ramjas, retired Prime Minister of Kapurthala State, whose idea was to organise a large and
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strictly national Society of Sanskrit Pandits, to work together for the revival of the ancient religion and literature. By request, I addressed the Convention, or "Bharata Dharma Maha Mandal," and when my address was finished, Resolutions of thanks to myself and of confidence in the Theosophical Society were adopted by acclamation. This was a good point to score, for, owing to my open profession of Buddhism, and H.P.B.'s, the Society had always been looked at askance as, perhaps, secretly hostile to Hinduism, and, possibly, a Buddhistic agency of propaganda, though not the least cause had been given for so un just a misrepresentation of our policy as a Society. The fact is, eclecticism in religion is the least conceivable attitude of mind to sectarians, whatsoever form of religion they may follow1, and our Society is to-day in Burma, and to a much less extent in Ceylon, suspected of ultra-Hinduism because of Mrs. Besant's bold avowal of her religious preferences, as it was fifteen years ago, of being exclusively Buddhistic, because of its two Founders and Damodar having taken the Five Precepts from Dharmarama Terunnanse at Galle, in 1880, in presence of a great multitude of excited Buddhists. But time scatters all illusions, and the truth at the end prevails.
1 It almost seems as if they thought divine truth to be an inverted pyramid, of which the base, spreading upward and outward, receives the whole religious influx, and the apex—the discharge-point—rests upon their particular altar. Outside the pyramid, nothing, save untruth.
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It is worth the while of an Anglo-Indian to visit Hardwar for the sake of the view of the grand scenery and the bathing in the clear cold current of the rushing Ganges. I mingled with the throng of bathing pilgrims daily, in the water, to my great refreshment. On 1st June, the great bathing day, I could compare the crowd to nothing else than bees swarming, and the noise to a prolonged roar of a storm-blast. The Police, under an European director, were very rough to the poor pilgrims, pushing and knocking them about like a mob of cattle. But so it is everywhere, in whatsoever direction one looks, harshness the rule, gentleness and patience the exception.
On the last morning of my visit I strolled up the paved way leading from the bathing-ghât towards the mountain, and was greatly shocked at something I saw. Squatting on the pavement was a group of three, an elderly Hindu woman, a young man—apparently her son—and a Brahmin. Between them, some human bones and ashes done up in a dirty cotton cloth. A chaffering, like what I heard once at an Irish fair for a pig, was going on, the angry voices raised, offers and refusals—on the one part, humble faith; on the other, priestly greed. The issue was as to how much the priestly shark should have for throwing the bones and ashes into the swift-slipping water. A glance at the man's face was enough to fill me with disgust and indignation, and I felt the greatest inclination to pitch him into the river with the bones tied about his neck. This is one of the depths to which
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the sublime religion of the Rishis has sunk in the hands of the degraded scum who officiate in so many temples, defiling the sanctuary of the gods by their moral effluvia. The more honor to those who keep the faith of their forefathers as, consciously, custodians of a great treasure, and square their lives of usefulness with their religious professions.
Lahore next, where H. H. the late Maharajah of Kashmir had placed his palace—a dilapidated building—at my disposal, and where a company of soldiers could have been given quarters. The energetic Pandit Gopinath, F.T.S., had arranged all the details of my visit, and kept me busy with crowds of visitors and daily lectures in the several quarters of the city. This was the capital of Runjit Singh, the warrior king of the Sikhs, surnamed the Lion of the North. A great man was he and a great soldier, but not a lovable character—rather a man of iron. Every good work on psychology tells the story of the burial of the Hatha Yogî, Haridas, for six weeks, in a tomb specially built in the Maharajah's garden, his subsequent exhumation and resuscitation, and his dismissal by the king with costly presents. On this occasion, as during my previous visits to Lahore, I searched after elderly men who had been eye-witnesses to the marvel of Yoga, and found one in an old Sikh Sirdar, whose account agreed, in the chief particulars, with those of Dr. Macgregor and Sir Claude Wade. In fact, there can be no question whatever as to the prime fact that this man had, by Yoga, acquired the power of suspending animation to
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the limit of at least forty days, and could suffer him self to be tied up in a bag and kept all that time in a sepulchre, without the chance of eating, drinking, or even breathing, and with guards keeping watch over it day and night to prevent the possibility of trickery. He was no saint, was Haridas, as I have explained in previous notices of the case, but yet he could do this wonderful thing; and I should be glad if every student of occult science could realise that strictly moral attributes are by no means indispensable for the psychical phenomena exhibited by spiritual mediums, mesmerisers, hypnotisers, healers of the sick, clairvoyants, prophets of sorts, and other possessors of abnormal faculties which pertain to the astral body and function on the astral plane. Think, for one moment, of the worthless characters of many of these surprise-workers, in our day as at previous epochs, and the truth will be seen. At the same time, the reader must not run off with the idea that all disease-curing, clairvoyance, and seership is confined to the lower self; far from it, for the Adept acquires all the Siddhis, and can thus have access to all repositories of knowledge, and work manifold wonders for the good of mankind. But He takes no fees, creates no scandals, does no wrong to a living being; He is our benefactor, our Teacher, our Elder Brother, our exemplar; a sacred radiance broods over Him, He is a light of the race.
The outcome of my visit was the formation of a Branch under the name of the Lahore Theosophical Society, and I then went on to Moradabad. Here I
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found, as District Judge, our old friend Ross Scott, C.S., our fellow-passenger on the ill-fated "Speke Hall," and ever our brave colleague who had stood up for us through good report and evil report, despite the whole force of Anglo-Indian prejudice. On this occasion he most willingly took the chair at my lecture, and spoke most kindly of the movement and of ourselves.
Next on to Bareilly for lectures, receptions, and inspections of our own Sanskrit School and another, both flourishing. While I was here the monsoon broke and the mercury dropped from 98° to 82°, and life was again bearable. At Bara-Banki, the home of Pandit Purmeshwari Das, there was much interest shown in our work. I saw here a real curiosity in the shape of a dwarf, 32 inches high, perfectly formed 23 years of age, a clever fellow, and a salaried office messenger or chuprassi.
With the rains came swarms of bugs and all sorts of insects, which had been brought to life by the kindly moisture in the ground. I found this out beyond mistake at Fyzabad, where, the Museum Hall becoming uncomfortably crowded, we adjourned to a lawn outside. A table with two sheltered candles being placed for me, and the audience accommodated with chairs and carpets, I began my (extempore) lecture on "Chitragupta," and managed to go on for a quarter of an hour, but by that time I was surrounded by a swarm of evil-smelling bugs, attracted by the lights, and was forced to stop. It would have amused anyone to have seen me standing there, with
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my figure lighted up by the candles, going ahead with my discourse as best I could; bugs crawling up the legs of my pyjamas, crawling up the sleeves of my Indian chapkan, slipping down my neck, getting into my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth; I, shaking my garments and hunting after them in my neck, stamping my feet, and brushing them out of my hair; and the smell—well, think of that of the potato-bug, that malodorous pest, to touch which is to have one's fingers tainted. That was my predicament at Fyzabad, and one can imagine that it was not conducive to extemporaneous religious discourse. At last I had to give it up in despair, so, to put as good a face on my discomfiture as possible, I said: "Gentlemen: It is a law of physics that two bodies cannot simultaneously occupy the same space. We have, it seems, intruded upon a meeting of the National Bug Congress. The Delegates from the four quarters are, as you see, crowding me from the four quarters, so I close my speech and move an adjournment. "The next evening I lectured inside the building, great open pans of water being placed on the floor, into which the bugs, under some mysterious attraction, fell, and I was able to get through my lecture more or less comfortably. While at Fyzabad I was driven to the beautiful park and bathing-ghât, at the site where Srî Rama, the Avatâr, is said to have made his last appearance on earth, and which possesses, on that account, a character of great sacredness.
All this district was Indian classical ground. From Fyzabad I travelled towards Gorakhpur, crossing the
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Gogra River from Ayodhya, Rama's ancient capital, by a steam ferry. What would Rama and his Court have thought of that!
Bankipur and Durbhunga followed after Chupra, which was next after Gorakhpur. At Chupra among my foreign letters I received one from H. P. B. which distressed me much. She had consented to start a new magazine with capital subscribed by London friends of hers, while she was still editor and half proprietor of the Theosophist—a most unusual and un-businesslike proceeding Besides other causes, among them the persuasion of English friends, a reason which strongly moved her to this was that Mr. Cooper-Oakley, her own appointee as Managing Editor, had more or less sided with T. Subba Row in a dispute which had sprung up between him and H. P. B. on the question whether the "principles" which go to the make-up of a human being were seven or five in number. Subba Row had replied in our pages to an article of hers on the subject, and her letters to me about it were most bitter and denunciatory of Cooper-Oakley, whom she, without reasonable cause, charged with treachery. It was one of those resistless impulses which carried her away sometimes into extreme measures. She wanted me to take away his editorial authority, and even sent me a foolish document, like a power-of-attorney, empowering me to send him to Coventry, so to say, and not allow any galley-proof to pass to the printer until initialed by myself. Of course, I remonstrated strongly against her thus, without
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precedent, setting up a rival competing magazine to hurt as much as possible the circulation and influence of our old-established organ, on the title-page of which her name still appeared. But it was useless to protest; she said she was determined to have a magazine in which she could say what she pleased, and in due time Lucifer appeared as her personal organ, and I got on as well as I could without her. Meanwhile, a lively interchange of letters went on between us. She was at strife then, more or less, with Mr. Sinnett, and before this was settled, a number of seceders from his London Lodge organised as the Blavatsky Lodge, and met at her house in Lansdowne Road, where her sparkling personality and vast knowledge of occult things always ensured full meetings.
The Maharajah of Durbhunga, whose guest I was at Bankipore and his own capital, who was a member of our Society and professedly my warm friend, drove me out and spent hours in discussions with me, but on my leaving, neither came to bid me farewell nor sent me a rupee on account of his voluntarily offered yearly subscription towards the Society's expenses, nor even for my travelling expenses—a discourtesy that no Branch, however poor, had ever paid me. I have never said a word about it before, but I believe the cause of his sudden disaffection was his discovery that I would not do a certain act of sorcery for him, one that many Indian Rajas have had tried for them. If I am mistaken, then his behavior after this was perfectly inexplicable.
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Jamalpur, a new town built up by the Railway Company, and where it has very extensive machine-shops and a great many houses and cottages for its employees, which it rents to them at fixed cheap rates, was my next objective point. I was enabled to get through a lot of my correspondence here, the office duties of our members giving me the necessary leisure. We celebrated the fourth anniversary of the local Branch, and I, after lecturing twice, proceeded on to Monghyr, where a new Branch was organised. I then came to Bhagalpore, the home of my blind patient, "Babu Badrinath Banerji, about whose most strange recoveries under my mesmeric treatment, and relapses into blindness, I have written elsewhere. These relapses were sad enough, yet the enjoyment of a whole year's eyesight after one day's treatment was not so bad a bargain after all. Badrinath Babu profited by my healing passes, in the restoration of his sight for the third time, and when I left the station was quite able to get about without help and to read the papers of the day.
A gratifying incident occurred after an address of mine at the Taj Naraen College, to the Boys' Moral Society. Besides the Hindu students there were many Muslim ones, so I framed my discourse on "Man and his Duties" so as to make it applicable to the followers of the Prophet as well as to the others. On my resuming my seat a handsome Muslim Maulvi rose, and in a most eloquent discourse thanked me for my references to the moral code of Islam.
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Berhampore, seat of an old, active, ever-staunch Branch which has played so noted a part in our early Indian history, gave me a royal welcome. I was the guest of Dr. Ram Das Sen, the Orientalist, so well known in Western lands, and after the usual publicand private meetings, I left for Murshedabad, where my friend the Nawab had bidden me to visit him at his Palace. I stopped overnight with him, lectured on "Islam" to a very uncomfortably packed house, took his Dewan into membership, and then returned to Calcutta once more. So ended this long circuit of my ten thousand mile Indian Journey of 1887.