Theosophical Society in the Philippines                 Online Books

                                   Home      Online Books     Previous Page      Next Page

OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott




WE were fortunate enough to have a sunny and smooth passage, which made us all enjoy each other’s society. The journey was broken at Chittagong, which we reached on 29th October at 7.30 a.m. The morning was spent by Dharmapala and myself in writing out for publication, as a pamphlet, the lecture referred to in the last chapter. Delegations of Boruahs (Maghs) and Hindus came aboard to pay their respects, and at their urgent request I went ashore, and at 5.30 p.m. lectured at the Government College building on “The High Morality of Hinduism and Buddhism,” my audience of about 800 persons comprising sections of both communities. We sailed the next morning for Akyab, and reached there on the 31st, receiving on the wharf a most cordial welcome from the leading gentlemen of the place, in which Dharmapala fully shared. On being settled in our quarters, we first paid ceremonial visits to the four most influential priests of the local section of the Buddhist Sangha. The rest of the day



our rooms were thronged with callers, and in the afternoon the General Committee came and I sketched out our plans for the Buddha Gaya movement. On the following day I called on Major Parrott, Commissioner of Arâkân, who invited me to dine with him on the next Sunday.
The next morning (November 2), accompanied by Messrs. Mra Oo, Extra Assistant Commissioner; U Tha Dwe, A.T.M.; Chan Tun Aung and Too Chan, Pleaders; and other influential Akyab gentlemen, and by Dharmapala, I went in a steamboat to Urittaung, a village 27 miles up the river, to a pagoda festival. We were taken to the rest-house on the river bank, an airy structure, open at the sides and with a corrugated iron roof; the floor was covered with durries or cotton carpets, on which our beds were made in the absence of bedsteads. The pagoda is on a steep hill, and is reached after a hard climb. Near it is a new pagoda of smaller size. We were told that the Buddhu Rasa, the spiritual rays which indicate a concentration of the Buddha’s spiritual influence, and which I believe I have described in connection with a Buddhist temple in Ceylon, are sometimes seen. The next day was the great festival of pilgrimage, and the holy spot was thronged with pilgrims. We had taken with us, as objects of interest for the Arakanese, a stone medallion of the Buddha, which we had obtained at Buddha Gaya, and the artistic bronze image given by the Dalai Lama to the Tibetan Ambassador, and by him presented to me. Naturally, these rare objects excited the


reverential feelings of the pilgrims. I lectured on Maha-Bodhi to an attentive throng, and received more than Rs. 80 in small coins. My remarks were interpreted by one of the gentlemen of our party. Our purpose had been previously explained by a priest named Uthargarah, Sayadaw, whose temple is at Kyoukphyu. He was a most eloquent and impressive speaker whose equal I had not heard save in the case of the great Sinhalese orator, Megittuwatte. We returned to Akyab the next day in a heavy rain.
On the 5th I lectured privately to a company of Maghs (Boruahs) of Chittagong, and persuaded them to organise a committee to collect subscriptions for the Maha-Bodhi Society. The same afternoon I lectured on Buddhism to a very large audience at the Government College: the Commissioner, Major Parrott, and most of the Europeans of Akyab were present. A preliminary meeting of Elders was held the next day; and after a lecture to a large native audience in a bamboo shamianah, the local Branch of the Maha-Bodhi Society was formed. In the evening I met a number of European gentlemen at dinner at the Commissioner’s house. There was another dinner the next day given me by the inhabitants of the ancient village of Ohdan, now one of the thirteen wards included within the Akyab Municipality. It was a grand function, and the food was all cooked and served in the native fashion. Later in the day I lectured on the Bodhisattvas and Arhats, and also on the way by which the Prince Siddhartha became Buddha.



A lecture was also given by Dharmapala. The council of the new Branch Maha-Bodhi Society met on Tuesday and agreed on details. In the evening I dined with Elders of Rupa village, another Akyab ward, and collected over Rs. 400 for the M.-B. Society. The next morning I visited a sick gentleman who gave me Rs. 100, some others of the family added a smaller sum, and his daughter offered me, with every mark of reverence, a pair of massive gold earrings in lieu of money, which she asked me to sell for the benefit of the fund. This was my first experience of the sort since I began collecting funds in the East, but I had it from the best authority that large numbers of jewels were thrown by Burmese women into the melting-pot when the great bell at Shway Dagôn was cast. If I could have afforded it, I should have bought the earrings myself and given them to some zealous lady colleague in the West.
Two or three days later I drove into the country with Mr. Hla Tun U to see an aged and learned bhikku who had read my Buddhist Catechism and wanted to talk with me. He was very enthusiastic about the book, and also about our Maha-Bodhi scheme; he hoped the book would find its way into every Burmese household. On Sunday the 13th I helped to pull a colossal statue of the Buddha which was being removed from a temporary to a permanent site, and it would have done some of my sybaritic colleagues good to have seen me tugging at the rope with the shouting crowd. That evening I lectured at Lamadaw village, and made a collection of Rs. 2,100. This was my last day but


one at Akyab; early the next afternoon I addressed the boys at the Government High School and dined with a European friend.
I found the Arakanese all that they had been depicted in their countryman’s letter quoted above—generous, enthusiastic, patriotic, religious, and—suspicious of foreigners. But my reception throughout was most cordial and all that could have been desired, and I left the country feeling that if Dharmapala followed up our initial effort, large sums might be realised towards the carrying out of the Maha-Bodhi project. I have reports in various newspapers of the substance of my lectures, but it is not worth while to quote from them, as they were simply devoted to the usual presentation of Buddhistic doctrines and a summarised view of the present state of Buddhism throughout the world; the whole ending with an appeal to the Arakanese to band themselves together to help on the meritorious work of the Maha-Bodhi Society. As regards the country, I may as well cite a paragraph from the Encyclopædia Britannica (vol. ii, p. 305), which gives the following interesting particulars:
“The natives of Arâkân trace their history as far back as A.D. 701, and give a lineal succession of 120 native princes down to modern times. According to them, their empire had at one period far wider limits, and extended over Ava, part of China, and a portion of Bengal. This extension of their empire is not, however, corroborated by known facts in history. At different times the Moghuls and Pegus carried their



arms into the heart of the country. The Portuguese during the era of their greatness in Asia gained temporary establishment in Arâkân; but in 1783 the province was finally conquered by the Burmese, from which period until its cession to the British in 1826, under the treaty of Yandaboo, its history forms part of that of Burma. The old city of Arâkân, formerly the capital of the province, is situated on an inferior branch of the Koladyne river, Its remoteness from the ports and harbors of the country, combined with the extreme unhealthiness of its situation, have led to its gradual decay subsequently to the formation of the comparatively recent settlement of Akyab, which place is now the chief town of the province. The old city of Arâkân lies about 50 miles north-east of Akyab, in 20º 42´ N. latitude, and 93º 24´ E, longitude. The Maghs, who form nearly the whole population of the province, follow the Buddhist doctrines, which are universally professed throughout Burma. The priests are selected from all classes of men, and one of their chief employments is the education of children. Instruction is consequently widely diffused, and few persons, it is said, can be found in the province who are unable to read. The qualifications for entering into the priestly order are good conduct and a fair measure of learning—such conduct, at least, as is good according to Buddhist tenets, and such learning as is esteemed among their votaries.” Alas! why cannot these Western (perhaps ex-missionary) writers refrain from such wanton insults?


On the 14th evening, I went on board the steamer “Kasara,” which was to take me to Rangoon. My inclination to revisit Rangoon was greatly strengthened by an urgent letter which I received from the Secretary of the Thatham Hita Kari Association, who wrote that the Society “was like a ship without a helm or chart,” and needed my advice. They were organising to open schools for children and print Buddhist Scriptures.
I think I have mentioned, in connection with my first visit to Rangoon in 1885, in company with Mr. Leadbeater, that I protested against the false idea for merit prevalent among the kind-hearted Burmese. They were at the time of my visit collecting a public subscription of Rs. 100,000 for regilding the stately and graceful dome of Shway Dagôn. I thought it an unnecessary extravagance, since, when ascending the river to Rangoon, the dome still shone from afar like a hill of glittering gold, and I thought the people might well postpone for two or three years this large expenditure. I had conversed with the Elders about the state of religious literature and the familiarity of the people with their sacred works, and knew that the most pressing claim on popular liberality was the publication of the Tripitikas, so as to bring them within the reach of at least the monks attached to the poorer kyaungs (monasteries). So I raised my voice in protest, and told the people that for one-fourth the sum they would spend on the gilding, the three Pitakas could be copied out from the engraved marble slabs in the little



kiosks built by the late king Mindoon Min and published. My words fell on some receptive ears, and the organisation of this book-printing and school-opening society was the result.
The next morning Dharmapala and many friends came to say good-bye, and as the clock struck 7 the steamer left the wharf. I had travelled so much about the coasts of India and Ceylon that I was not surprised to find in our jolly skipper the officer who had commanded the vessel on which Leadbeater and I went from Madras to Colombo several years before. From Akyab to Rangoon was a voyage of 60 hours. On arrival (November 18), I was met by many Burmese gentlemen and taken to the hospitable mansion of one of the best men I have met in the East—generous, courteous, pious, and honorable—Mr. Maung Hpo Myin. Miss Ballard, of Chicago, who had a freak at that time for becoming a Buddhist nun, was stopping there. Among my many visitors was the Burmese nobleman who had kindly interpreted my French address to the assembled High Priests at Mandalay into the vernacular. Every visitor to Rangoon has seen and admired the graceful architectural structure of the Soolay Pagoda. I lectured there on the Sunday evening on “The Sacred Shrines of the Buddhists” to a very large audience. I am able to recall my remarks by reading an article from the Rangoon Gazette, which I find copied into the Journal of the M.-B. Society for February, 1893; and as the arguments are not stale, and are just as necessary for the Burmans


to heed now as they were then, I will give some extracts. Says the editor’s report:
“He wanted the Burman Buddhists to understand that he had no more sympathy with them than he had with the Buddhists of Ceylon, Japan, China, and Tibet, and all the other countries, nor had he the least inclination towards one sect more than to another. There was for him only one Buddhist sect, and that was Buddhism; and there was only one Buddhist doctrine, and that was what was taught by their Lord Buddha.
“Having compared at length the interest shown by the Christians in their religion with the feebler interest displayed by the Buddhists in Japan, China, Ceylon, Siam, Burma and other parts, the lecturer said that among all the nations of the world it was agreed by foreigners who had travelled about Burma that the Burmans were the most generous of people in regard to their religion, and some of the most respected Christians, like Bishop Bigandet and others, had borne testimony to that fact, and praised the Burmans for their piety and religious enthusiasm. But then all intelligent foreigners had also agreed in making one reproach to the Burmese Buddhists, and that was that they misunderstood what true merit was. They were wasting enormous sums of money in building many more kyaungs and pagodas than were necessary. What was more meritorious was to follow the Precepts of their Teacher with regard to the spread of their religion, and to see that their children were being religiously



brought up as Buddhists. Why not build pagodas and kyaungs in other places where there were none, and especially in the most sacred places belonging to Buddhists, such as Buddha Gaya, Kapilavastu, Kusinârâ, and Benares? He thought that much of the money that was spent on the beautiful structures in Rangoon would have been better spent in the places he mentioned. In Buddha Gaya, for instance, there were many images that were buried 20 feet in mud, and there were others scattered over the ground on which the dhobies washed their dirty clothes, and people used them for the backs of fireplaces and for curry-stones. He asked them to think of this; and when they heard that someone had made up his mind to build a pagoda, to go to him and mention the word Maha-Bodhi, and tell him that the shrines of Buddha were being desecrated, and that money was wanted for them, and not for building the pagoda. He asked them to understand that no Buddhist did his duty who confined his liberality to his own village, to his own country, to his own family, and to his own nation; but only that man did his duty who used all his endeavors to see that the Dharma which they considered so precious and necessary for all mankind was spread through the four quarters of the globe. They must do this in a businesslike way. They must have a committee in Rangoon to receive the money, and he would see that it was applied to the proper purposes.
“Arâkân had promised to raise Rs. 50,000. Only a few days ago he had visited three out of thirteen villages


of Akyab, and they had given him in cash Rs. 4,000. He wanted at least one lakh to begin the work; and what he proposed to do was first to have at Calcutta a Buddhist College or School where they could train preachers to go to different countries, after learning the foreign languages which they would have to use. The next thing he wanted was to establish a rest-house where Buddhist pilgrims could stay on their way to Buddha Gaya. He wanted also to establish in Calcutta a small temple, to found a library, and to have a literary fund, so that they might get the books translated, printed, and circulated. He wanted to put at each one of the sacred shrines a kyaung and a rest-house. The other day, in Akyab, a Buddhist lady was so interested that she gave him a heavy pair of earrings, and they were sold for Rs. 73. He was told that when a bell for a pagoda was required to be made and more gold was needed, the ladies would melt their jewelry. But the bell they wanted to cast was the bell of Dharma, whose sound would not be heard merely a few rods about the place, but all over the world—that sweet sound which was preached to them by the gospel of their Lord. They could only carry on their work by having an International Society.”
On the Monday, at a meeting at the house where I was stopping, a branch of the Maha-Bodhi Society was formed, and Rs. 1,000 subscribed towards the fund, and Maung Ohn Ghine was elected Treasurer. At 8.15 on Tuesday morning I lectured on “Theosophy” at the premises of the Maduray Pillay School,



and in the evening lectured on “Buddhism” in a cattle-yard, where there was a convenient shed. On the Wednesday I gave my last lecture in Rangoon at a Burmese school, and recommended the adoption of the Ceylon policy of opening Buddhist schools for the bringing up of their children under the influence of their ancestral religion. I also recommended the founding of a Burmese Maha-Bodhi journal. At about half-past two I sailed for Madras in the steamship “Palitana”.
After a charming passage of nearly four days, I got back to my blessed home again after an absence of forty-five days, and found it looking lovely, as it always is. His Excellency Lord Lansdowne, the Viceroy of India, being in Madras on tour, I availed of the opportunity to exchange notes with his private secretary about the ownership of Buddha Gaya, and on the evening of the 28th of November, on the invitation of the Governor of Madras (Lord Wenlock), attended a ball at Government House given in honor of the Viceroy and the Marchioness of Lansdowne.
One of my first bits of literary work was to write a review notice of H. P. B.’s posthumous book, The Caves and Jungles of Hindustan, translated by her niece, Mrs. Vera Johnston, from her articles in the Russki Vyestnik, a very important Russian magazine. Mrs. Johnston’s work was superbly done, and, as I say in my article, “so admirably and lovingly that one might really suppose she had taken it down from H. P. B.’s own lips”. On looking over the article, I cannot see


the least thing to which the most affectionate friend of Madame Blavatsky could have taken exception, for the tone throughout is appreciative. And yet it provoked a protest from the late Mr. Judge, on the score that I treat the work for what it really is, a series of magnificent romances of travel built up on souvenirs of a prosaic journey made by us two, a Hindu friend, and our servant Babula. A part of the narrative was, she told me, suggested by souvenirs of a former journey of hers from Southern India to Tibet, when she was really in the company and under the protection of the Adept whom she personifies under the sobriquet of Gulab Singh. These facts being unknown to the general reader, many, perhaps most, fancied that the book was a narrative of actual travel, and on my recent tour I have been asked by some such superficial readers to tell them how I felt in some of the crises depicted by her! This book reveals the possession by her of a literary brilliance, a fascination of style\, and a gorgeousness of imagination equal to almost anything that exists in literature. Sometimes, pace the visit to a Witch’s Den, where horrors cluster around one, her stories were composed out of a mere nothing, while those of the City of the Dead in the Vindhya Mountains, the Caves of Bagh in Malva, the Isle of Mystery, and others, were grounded upon nothing whatever that happened to us throughout our journey. I once met at Colombo a party of Russian gentlemen who had actually come to India in the hope- of getting some such thrilling adventures as those she describes in the



book! Of course, the fictitious superstructure erected over her tiny facts would be palpable to every well-educated Hindu, yet, all the same, one cannot admire enough her amusing exaggerations. What must the Bombay reader who has ever visited Karli Caves think of her tale of beetling crags, goat-paths, and deep chasms in the story of our visit to Karli Caves? Our actual sleeping-place was a small cavern on the side of the hill to the right of the carven cave-entrance, and to it ran a broad, easy path, up which one might ride on elephant or horse-back. But this is what she makes of it:
“A path, or rather a ledge cut along the perpendicular face of a rocky mass, 200 feet high, led from the chief temple to our vihâra. A man needs good eyes, sure feet, and a very strong head to avoid sliding down the precipice at the first false step. And help would be quite out of the question, for the ledge being only two feet wide, no one could walk side by side with another. We had to walk one by one, appealing for aid only to the whole of our personal courage. But the courage of many of us was gone on an unlimited furlough. The position of our American Colonel was the worst, for he was very stout and short-sighted, which defects, taken together, caused him frequent vertigoes. To keep up our spirits, we indulged in a choral performance of the duet from Norma, ‘Moriam insieme,’ holding each other’s hands the while, to ensure our being spared by death or dying all four in company. But the Colonel did not fail to frighten


us nearly out of our lives. We were already half-way up to the cave when he made a false step, staggered, lost hold of my hand, and rolled over the edge. We three, having to clutch the bushes and stones, were quite unable to help him. An unanimous cry of horror escaped us, but died away as we perceived that he had succeeded in clinging to the trunk of a small tree which grew on the slope a few steps below us. Fortunately, we knew that the Colonel was good at athletics, and remarkably cool in danger. Still the moment was a critical one. The slender stem of the tree might give way at any moment. Our cries of distress were answered by the sudden appearance of the mysterious sadhu with his cow.
“They were quietly walking along about 20 feet below us, on such invisible projections of the rock that a child’s foot could barely have found room to rest there, and they both travelled as calmly; and even carelessly, as if a comfortable causeway were beneath their feet instead of a vertical rock. The sadhu called out to the Colonel to hold on, and to us to keep quiet. He patted the neck of his monstrous cow, and untied the rope by which he was leading her. Then, with both hands he turned her head in our direction, and clucking with his tongue, he cried ‘Chal’ (go). With a few wild goat-like bounds the animal reached our path, and stood before us motionless. As for the sadhu himself, his movements were as swift and goat-like. In a moment he had reached the tree, tied the rope round the Colonel’s body, and put him on his



legs again; then, rising higher, with one effort of his strong hand he hoisted him up to the path. Our Colonel was with us once more, rather pale, and with the loss of his pince-nez, but not of his presence of mind.
“An adventure that had threatened to become a tragedy ended in a farce.”
The rest of her story is equally comical and baseless. One who did not know her intimately can hardly believe that the same hand had written The Secret Doctrine; Isis Unveiled; and this Caves and Jungles book, and her Nightmare Tales. I felt a grim satisfaction in seeing that unsympathetic journals like the Times and its bigoted namesake, the Methodist Times, which begrudged a word of praise for her more serious books, were captivated by these effervescences of her fancy. As I say in the review notice: “She is beyond their reach, but this beginning of a change of public verdict is sweet to her family and friends, who knew her greatness and lovableness all along, and who felt that a bright star had passed into eclipse when she died. And this is but the beginning of what will be seen as time and Karma work out their changes, and the fulness of this woman’s power, knowledge, and sufferings becomes revealed”—woman to those who only knew her in her tempestuous, rebellious, brilliant, painracked female body. Ah! if the world ever comes to know who was the mighty entity who labored sixty years under that quivering mask of flesh, it will repent its


cruel treatment of H. P. B., and be amazed at the depth of its ignorance!
Among the incidents of the last quarter of 1892 was the formal expulsion of a man calling himself by the pseudonym of Alberto de Das, a member of the Spanish group of our Society at Madrid. He was the most accomplished and audacious “confidence man” of whom I have ever had any personal knowledge. He had a taste for starting mystical societies with high-sounding titles, himself figuring as an adept and inspired agent of the White Lodge, associating himself with a local group long enough to win their, confidence, spread our teachings around that center, and—exploit his colleagues and the public. His real name appears to have been Alberto Sarak. In my recent visit to Buenos Aires I found that he was only too well remembered, having got away with some $15,000 of money obtained from his colleagues in a local Branch which he had been instrumental in founding. This was after his expulsion in Spain, and flight from his creditors in Europe. He got his authority to form the Branch by addressing me officially under an assumed name, in a letter which was admirable as to both composition and sentiments. I have in my' possession one of his bogus membership diplomas, in: which he entitles himself" Delegate of the Supreme Occult Council of the Mahatmas of Thibet". He also passed himself off as a doctor, In due course, after gathering together the Branch and starting a magazine, he flitted to Brazil, whence, after two or three months;



he actually returned to Argentina, and with amusing hardihood called himself a Persian Ambassador, or some such title, and had the impudence even to call upon the Consul-General of Persia to give him free transportation to Chile! Of course he did not get it, and so again transferred his industries to the West Coast of South America, where, I have been told, he was thrown into prison, at the suit of some new victim. The picturesqueness of this man's operations to some extent gilds his rascality, and makes him worthy of so much notice as the, present. When I made the acquaintance of the dupes of this adventurer at Buenos, Aires, who are the members of our several Branches there, I found them to be a superior class of persons, most of them occupying responsible public positions. I found, also, that the review started under Sarak's auspices was a. most creditable publication, exercising a. decided influence for good. This was to me an interesting proof, additional to others which I had previously obtained, that even the worst of persons may come into our movement, and, whether unconsciously or not, contribute to its prosperity.. How curious all this is to the student of karmic law; and how it shows that if a wicked person yields to even a momentary good impulse, he may engender good Karma that will go towards balancing his account of moral responsibility! 1

1 [More recently (1908) this enterprising person turned up in Paris in one of his adept" roles, and was exposed by Mrs. Laura Finch in the Annals of Psychic Science, which she then edited. —ED.]


It had been arranged with Mrs. Besant that she should visit India in time for the Convention of this year, and Mr. Keightley had received something over &s. 2,000 towards the estimated expenses of Rs. 5,500, but early in the autumn it was made evident that we could not count upon her presence-so much desired—at the Convention at Adyar. The report of the general dissatisfaction having reached Mrs. Besant, she issued from Avenue Road a circular, dated 21st October, 1892, in which she explained that—apart from the question of expenses—she was constrained to put off her visit to India because of her having had placed in her hands work that she was bound to carry out in the West: she hinted that circumstances might permit her to visit us the next year, but she could make no definite promise. At any rate she hoped soon to stand face to face with her Indian brethren, adding that to her, India and the Indian peoples seemed nearer than the nation to which by birth she belonged. "In heart," wrote she, "I am one with you, and to you by my past I belong. Born this last time under Western skies for work that needs to be done, I do not forget my true motherland, and my inner nature turns Eastward ever with filial longing. When Karma opens the door, I will walk through it, and we will meet in the body as we can already meet in mind." We all now know the work that had been given her to do in Europe, or at least some of it, to wit, to carry out judge's schemes to prevent my meeting with her, and by comparing notes, jointly discover the heartless



trickery he was playing on her, and the treachery to the he was then plotting. He cynically abused that trustful confidence which this golden-hearted woman had been led to repose in him, and used her as his cat's-paw to work out his ambitious schemes.

Previous Page       Top of this page       Next Page