The Theosophical Congress
AND THE PARLIAMENT OF RELIGIONS
The Path, November, 1893
The Congress of the Theosophical Society in September as a part of the Great Parliament of Religions was a significant as well as successful event. In another article the Chicago Chairman shows how we had but little hope at first of having any place whatever in either the merely intellectual or the religious side of the World’s Fair; how we found the old yet senseless opposition to Theosophy obstructing the path for so long as to cause us to cease efforts; and how suddenly the scene changed and the managers of the Parliament of Religions became our friends and helpers. This change will never be explained by those who do not know the forces working behind the acts and thoughts of men. It not only took us into the Parliament, but gave us the best date of all sittings and made our Congress the real Parliament itself.
Not at any time but now during eighteen centuries could such a meeting have been possible, and it was distinctly a Theosophical step because, being an effort to get on one platform representatives of all religions, it was just what our Society has been accomplishing steadily during the past eighteen years, and what our objects and constitution have always expressed.
It marked a cycle in the development of religious thought. For centuries until the American Republic was founded men’s minds in western civilizations were chained to bigotry and dogma. Then, as expressed on the seal of the United States, “a new order of ages” began. Steadily creeds and churches, religious ideas and religious interpretations altered, the freedom of America making it a possibility that men should here think more baldly and act upon their thoughts, should not be afraid of their opinions but be more willing to proclaim them unchecked by state interference, until at last among the hosts of the dissenters from Roman Catholicism the idea of a Religious Parliament was born. And that the presiding officer of the Parliament should be a Presbyterian was still more significant, as that cult is surely the fatalistic iron-bound one of all the different stripes of Christianity. The cycle being almost complete, its ending and the beginning or an other were fitly marked by the calling of the gathering at Chicago. In ending his opening speech, Dr. Barraws, the president, said the whole world is bound by chains of gold about the feet of God.
Our part in the Parliament was not merely to prove that the Society had grown strong enough and sufficiently respectable to compel a place therein, but chiefly to show, as an integral portion of the whole body, that the true attitude for all religious bodies to take is to seek for and disclose the truths in each, and not confine themselves merely to their own pet theories. And as we exemplified this in truth, the other bodies confining themselves to explications of particular creeds or views of salvation—and one, the Raman Catholic, declaring that only in that sort of Christianity were truth, ethics, and salvation—it follows that the Theosophical Congress was in actuality, though not in form, the Parliament of Religions.
The occasion enabled us to present a great abject-lesson illustrating what we had been saying for years, that the Oriental is no heathen, that he should not be, treated as such, and that an examination of his religions will show them to be the real source of those professed by the Occident. And when all those Greeks, Chinamen, Japanese, Buddhists, Shintas, Hindus, and Confucians appeared on the platform, beyond doubt the Brahmin we brought towered above them all by virtue of the ancient system he represented as prime source of all religions. Our Buddhist Dharmapala, with Annie Besant an old agnostic, combined with all others, proved that the Theosophical movement, though small by comparison with the world’s great set systems of religion, voices the great underlying note of the mental, moral, and religious evolution of the human race. This note is changed, distorted, and colored by any and every form of religion, but in Theosophy it sounds forth without fault. No one religion gives it clearly, no single system will present it to the perception; only by the combination and from the examination of all can it be discovered for the delight and benefit of humanity.
And that the minds of Western people are beginning to hear the first faint vibrations of this great sound was evident at our congress. All our meetings were crowded to overflowing, every shade of opinion was on our platform as well as in our audiences, and, recognizing the effect produced by such an epoch-making Congress as ours, the newspapers of the city, which only attend to that which forces itself to the surface, gave us in their reports the greatest prominence, saying one day, “The Theosophical Congress is a competitor of the whole Parliament.”
But remembering the words of our old Teacher, the Master’s Messenger—H.P.B., that it may be dangerous for the T.S. to grow too fast, out of proportion to its strength, let us one and all try to make ourselves centres for Theosophical influence, so as to constitute a body of power from the power of each element duly fostered and educed. This we shall do only by personal effort, by attention and by service to others; and thus, and in no other way, we may reap for the Theosophical Society all the benefits that such a congress and such success should justly lead us to expect.