Theosophist, June, 1882
Old readers will recollect our desire, long ago expressed, that some respectable Brahmo would undertake, in these columns, a candid exposition of the views of his Samaj. Friends, in both Europe and America, have asked for some authoritative statement of Brahmoism, that the West might intelligently study the present drift of Asiatic thought in the channel opened, half a century ago (A.D. 1830), by the religious fervour and bright genius of Ram Mohun Roy. Their desire, and ours, is at last gratified. In the present number is printed the first instalment of a discourse upon “Hindu Theism,” by a man whose spotless private character and pious sincerity have won the respect and confidence of multitudes of his countrymen, even of those who do not at all sympathize with his views, or his sect’s, upon religious questions. The Brahmic Church of India was, as is known, founded by the late Raja Ram Mohun Roy on the lines of a pure Theism, though not announced as a sect. No country can boast a purer or holier son than was this Indian reformer. The Raja died in England in 1831, and, for the next few years, his movement languished under the leadership of a very noble-hearted man, Pandit Ramchandra Vidyabagish. In 1838, the leadership fell into the hands of Babu Debendra Nath Tagore, a Bengali gentleman of high family, and of a sweetness of character and loftiness of aim equal to that of the late Raja. In every respect he was worthy to wear the mantle of the Founder and able to take upon himself the chief burden of the Herculean work he had begun. Of the bright minds who clustered about them, the most conspicious and promising were Babus Raj Narain Bose, Keshab Chander Sen, and Sivanath Shastri. For years they worked together for the common cause without discord, and the Brahmic Church was a unit. But the infirmities of human nature by degrees opened breaches which resulted in the setting up of schismatic Samajis, and the primitive Brahmoism was first split into two and, later, into three churches. The first and, as claimed, original one is known as the Adi Brahmo Samaj, of which the now venerable and always equally revered Babu Debendra Nath Tagore is theoretically, but Babu Raj Narain Bose practically—owing to the retirement of the former to a life of religious seclusion at Mussooree,—the chief. The latter gentleman may also be almost said to be in retirement, since he lives at Deoghur, Bengal, an almost exclusively contemplative life. The second Samaj comprises a small group which has followed the lead of Babu Keshab Chander Sen out of his “Brahmo Samaj of India”—as his first schism was called—down the slippery road to the quagmire of Infallibility, Direct Revelation, and Apostolic Succession, where he has planted the gaudy silken flag of his New Dispensation, beside the pontifical banner of the Pope of Rome. At Calcutta, we were told that of actual disciples he can scarcely count more than fifty-five, though his marvellous eloquence always commands large audiences of interested hearers. It was also the unanimous testimony to us of his friends, as well as foes, that Babu Keshab’s influence is rapidly dying out, and that, after his death, not even the marked ability of his cousin and chief assistant, Babu Protab Chandra Mozumdar, is likely to hold the Samaj together. The third branch of the original Brahmo Samaj of Ram Mohun Roy is called the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, and headed by Pandit Sivanath Shastri, who is a gentleman of unblemished character, modest disposition, a well-read Sanskritist, and a good, though not exceptional, orator.
We have had quite recently the great pleasure of reading a pamphlet by Pandit Sivanath Shastri, in which the history of the Brahmic movement is clearly and ably sketched, and which the reader would do well to procure from the author. Our Western friends, especially who have such incorrect ideas of Babu Keshab’s character and relationship with contemporary Brahmoism, will be startled and shocked to read Pandit Sivanath’s judicially calm analysis of the career of his quondam colleague towards the worst abomination—from Ram Mohun Roy’s point of view—of personal leadership and reckless egoism. And one thing, as bad as bad can be, is not given in this pamphlet, viz., that on the day of the last annual celebration of an idolatrous festival at Calcutta, Babu Keshab allowed his disciples to bathe his person, bedeck it with garlands, and put him in a swing as the Hindus put their idols, and swing him as though he were a divine being. Beyond this, there is scarcely any extravagance of childish vanity to be guilty of. The intelligent reader will easily deduce from it what fate is in store for this branch of a once noble tree.
The discourse of Babu Raj Narain Bose, now to be given in these columns, though delivered in Bengali in the year 1872, has never until now appeared in an English dress. The learned and most esteemed author has revised his translation and generously placed it at our disposal. As the portions successively appear, they will be put into type at the Samaj Press, in Bengal, and when our last instalment is printed, the author will publish the entire lecture in pamphlet form. The Adi Brahmo Samaj is nearest of the three to being orthodox, and least revolutionary as regards Hinduism. Its managers wisely keep a good deal of what is excellent in their national religion, instead of flinging, so to say, the family treasures out of the windows and clamouring for new lamps. They find Hinduism to be a pure and essential Theism, and have laid down their new church on that foundation. It is not our province to express an outside opinion upon a subject whose exegesis, we conceive, should be left to its own authorized teachers. The “THEOSOPHIST” was originally announced as a tribune from which all religions might be expounded by their best men; and so it will ever be.
In conclusion, we must note the coincidence that, upon the very heel of the Swami’s defection, comes a most cordial greeting from Babu Raj Narain Bose, leader of another Hindu society, and a man whose approbation and friendship is worth having. In a letter (of date April 3rd) to Colonel Olcott, he says:—“It is the marvel of marvels that a stranger should come to India from the far, far West to rouse her from the sleep of ages, and work as a Hindu with Hindus for the regeneration of the Hindu nation. Had the system of Purana writing been still in vogue this strange event would have been narrated in striking allegories!”