The Philosophic Inquirer
Theosophist, August, 1882
The first numbers of our iconoclastic Madras contemporary in its new English garb are on our table. We confess with pleasure that it has greatly gained by the change. Not only has it improved in its external appearance, but also in the choice of the matter given. Especially interesting for us are the contents of its issue of July 16th. The editorial—a review of “Mrs. Annie Besant on the Theosophical Society”—is an able and dignified reply to a strange manifesto issued by that lady—we doubt not—while labouring under entirely misconceived notions about the real nature of our Society. For one so highly intellectual and keen an observer as that renowned writer, to dogmatize and issue autocratic ukazes after she has herself suffered so cruelly and undeservedly at the hands of blind bigotry and social prejudice in her lifelong struggle for freedom of thought, seems, to say the least, absurdly inconsistent! That she must have been labouring under some strange mistake, is fully proved by her writing the following:
“Judging by an address from the President of the Society, Colonel Olcott, it does hold to some strange theory of “apparitions” of the dead. . . . I trust that Hindu Freethinkers will not be led away by his (Colonel Olcott’s) appeal, for, while Secularists would have no right to refuse to enroll Theosophists, if they desired it, among their members . . . consistent members of our body cannot join a society which professes belief therein” (i.e., in the apparitions).
Until proofs to the contrary, we prefer to believe that the above lines were dictated to Mrs. Besant by some crafty misrepresentations from Madras, inspired by a mean, personal revenge, rather than a desire to remain consistent with the principles of “the scientific materialism of Secularism.” We beg to assure the Radical editors of the National Reformer, that they were both very strangely misled by false reports about the as radical editors of the THEOSOPHIST. The term “Supernaturalists” can no more apply to the latter than to Mrs. A. Besant or Mr. C. Bradlaugh. Our Society is neither a sect of jumping Shakers who invite “the Spirit to move them,” nor a band of Spiritualists who long to hold communion with the “spirits” of the dead; and that is precisely why we are held in as poor esteem by the Spiritualists, as they too by the Christians. Most of our members decline to believe on second-hand testimony, even in the well-proven phenomena of mesmerism. Nor are they in any way bound so to believe, unless they find good cause for it. For that very reason we are now compelled to point out the several errors that the editor of the Philosophic Inquirer— though himself a “Fellow” of our Society—has constantly been falling into since he joined us. Some of those mistakes are very curious. For instance, he says:
“It is a matter of fact that both Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott are professed Buddhists, and as Buddhists consistently believe in a future state of existence, and advocate the doctrine of Karma, which is simply unmeaning to us, as material atheists, judging from our own rational conception, that qualities or characteristics apart from organizations cannot be generators of this or that birth, good or bad.”
While willingly conceding that, as a “material atheist,” the editor of the Philosophic Inquirer cannot be reasonably expected to know much of any other “ism” but “materialism,” nevertheless, he ought to know enough of Buddhism to remember that “professed Buddhists” would “consistently (dis)believe and not believe in a future state of existence,” as the Spiritualists do. The Buddhist believes in a future re-birth, and re-births innumerable in the “Cycle of Necessity”; but no Buddhist, whether southern or northern, believes in a “Soul” as a distinct self-existing entity. Hence he rejects the modern theory about the “spirits of the dead.” Least of all does he believe in God as a Creator. The heresies of “Attavāda” (belief in soul or self) and that of Sakkāyaditthi (the delusion of individuality or personality, i.e., belief in a “I am” apart from Universal Existence,—together with the belief in the efficacy of rites and mummeries—are regarded by him as “primary delusions,” the direct result of ignorance or Maya. The Buddhist advocates Karma, because, while avoiding the superstitious extreme of Attavada of the theists, he is firmly confident of the existence of a law of universal Moral Justice, or Retribution. He knows that no exterior power can obliterate the result of a man’s deeds, and that they must work out to the end, since everything in nature is subject to the law of Cause and Effect, and that science herself is showing us how everything is constantly changing. We doubt whether the “scientific materialism of secularism” can ever hope to reach, let alone surpass, the “scientific materialism” of Buddhism. Only, while the former feeling diffident of its own powers of observation and investigation, cautiously prefers to take its ultimate facts of existence in the material visible universe, scientific Buddhism carries matter into the invisible, and makes it subject to the law of cause and effect in regions, so far, undreamt of by modern material science. There are worlds besides our own—spiritual but in the sight of the short sighted; still material in that of the fearless pioneers of thought: worlds “where devas live and die, and are again reborn.” Thus, when the editor of the Philosophic Inquirer assures his readers that “Colonel Olcott proclaims his belief in the apparitions of the dead,” he errs, and leads others into error, since the Colonel proclaims nothing of the kind—only his belief in the existence of various phenomena, and in that of psycho-physiological Maya, the latter being with every day more corroborated by science. We hope our much persecuted colleague and Brother will fall no more into such misconceptions, but will remain for ever true and loyal to his principles of a Free-thinker and—a Fellow of the Theosophical Society.