Theosophist, December, 1881
Hamlet: . . . . . . “Ministers of grace, defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn’d
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Thou comest in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Sunday Mirror honours us with a direct notice. The Calcutta organ of piety, generally so contemptuous and reserved, actually begins to show signs of interest for its humble contemporary and—speaks to it. Our star is evidently in its ascendency. Let not pride overwhelm our better feelings, but may our prayers reach Saraswati, the sweet goddess of wisdom, to inspire us in the answers we shall have to give to our stern cross-examining critic.
“Our notions about the Theosophists are so hazy that we feel diffidence in pronouncing upon the merits of the system which they have come to preach.”
We read in the Mirror of November 20. To feel “a diffidence in pronouncing upon the merits” of a system, with notions about it confessedly “hazy” shows wisdom and betokens prudence. Nevertheless, the Mirror “notes” two facts about us. They believe—it says—(meaning the Theosophical culprits)
“They believe in the Hindu yoga, and they proclaim themselves to be Buddhists. It is related that they gave themselves out as such be fore the Madras people who had mistaken them for Hindus.”
Oh, foolish Madrassees! However, the Theosophists, who do “believe” in Yoga “must surely be ubiquitous.” To give one’s self out as one thing or the other, in a place where one has never been, is a feat of which even the Theosophists might well be proud. Let it be understood that when we say—“Theosophists,” we but answer the secret thought of the estimable Mirror painting to itself under that generic name the two humble founders of the Society, but for reasons best known to itself, avoiding to specify them by name. Well, if so, neither Colonel Olcott nor Madame Blavatsky ever graced yet by their presence Madras, the former having gone no further than Tinnevelly, and the latter having trod the shores of the Southern Coast for the last time some twenty-three years back. There might have been in Madras hundreds of Theosophists for all we know, who “proclaimed” themselves—but what they were: natural-born Buddhists from Ceylon to Burma. So much the worse for Dravidian perspicacity if they were “mistaken for Hindus.” We are inclined though to regard the accusation as a wicked slur upon the Madrassees’ mental capacities, because, perhaps, of our Southern Brothers showing themselves rather slow in the appreciation of the New Dispensation missionaries.
However it may be, further on the S.M. is more explicit and even becomes authoritative.
“Now what we wish to know about them is this” it declares—“What is the creed which they profess? Buddhism is accepted in various ways by scholars. Its morality is admired by many, while its directly godless character is commended by agnostics. We contemplate the founder of Buddhism as the revealer of a particular idea to his countrymen, and in that way include him in the rolls of the world’s great prophets. Now if the Theosophists are Buddhists in what sense are they such? They cannot be simply contented with the morality of Sakya-Muni, since the very same morality they have in the religion of their own countries. 1 Nor are they probably inclined to view him in the way the New Dispensation does! 2 Are they then agnostics in an old Buddhist dress? 3 The Theological position of Buddhism is not yet clearly ascertained. 4 Mr. Rhys Davids assigns, we think, in one of his latest works, a purely atheistic conception to the system. Do the theosophists belong to that class of thinkers?”
A direct plainly-put question demands as direct and plain an answer. Unfortunately, with all our good will and sincere desire to satisfy our esteemed contemporary’s curiosity (and very laudable it is) we are placed in a very awkward position. It is that of an inhabitant of the earth who would find himself suddenly apostrophized by—say a citizen of the moon meteorically fallen from that luminary. “Oh, child of a strange planet,” might say the latter to the former, “a learned astronomer from our satellite tells us that there are living animals on your earth, which, notwithstanding their great variety, are called men and who deny an atmosphere to our planet. Do the like of you belong to that class of beings?” What could man answer to such a question? There would be no more use denying his being a “living animal” called man, than there is of our being “Theosophists”; while his ideas might be as diametrically opposed to those of his fellow beings who deny an atmosphere to fair Luna, as the views and creeds of some Theosophists are opposed to the views and creeds of other Theosophists. The members of our Society may be reckoned by thousands and their respective religions, sects and various philosophies, by hundreds. When, therefore, any one desires to learn to what religion or system belongs this or that one of our Brotherhood, the least he could do would be to specify that particular individual by his or her name.
To afford, however, some slight consolation to our Calcutta contemporary we will take it into our confidence, and unbosom ourselves, of a great secret. Colonel Olcott is a thorough-going, genuine Buddhist—though not of the “prayer-wheel turning” kind; while his humble Corresponding Secretary, Madame Blavatsky, is—what she is: her religious—or if the Mirror so prefers it—irreligious views forming part of her private property, with which the public has not the slightest concern. As to the Society in general, or rather its members, they are bound to respect the religion of everybody; never to attack any system per se, nor yet any religionist who keeps his faith sacredly locked up within his own heart, abstaining from waving it into the public’s face like a red flag before a bull, or flinging it into the teeth of all those he meets with; at the same time, it is our bounden duty and pleasure to oppose harsh-voiced bigotry, religious intolerance, sectarian prejudice and arrogance whenever and in whatever religion we find it; from the oldest “Dispensation”—downward.
1. Not quite “the very same” (morality).
2. Oh, heavens—no!
3. No; but some of us may be “agnostics in a new Theosophical dress.”
4. Alas! as little ascertained and as “hazy” as the Sunday Mirror’s notions about Theosophy.