The Theosophical Society
AS RELATED TO BRAHMANISM AND BUDDHISM
The Path, May, 1893
The subjoined circular has been sent by me to as many Brahmins as I could reach. I have purposely used the words “Brahmins of India” in the title because I hold to the view of the Vedas and the ancient laws that the Brahmin is not merely he who is born of a Brahmin father. In America lack of accurate knowledge respecting Indian religions causes a good deal of misapprehension about Brahmanism and Buddhism, as very many think Buddhism to be India’s religion, whereas in fact it is not, but, on the contrary, the prevailing form of belief in India is Brahmanism. This necessary distinction should be remembered and false notions upon the subject dissipated as much as possible. Buddhism does not prevail in India, but in countries outside it, such as Burmah, Japan, Ceylon, and others. The misconception by so many Americans about the true home of Buddhism if not corrected may tend to cause the Brahmins to suppose that the T.S. here spreads abroad the wrong notion; and no form of religion should be preferred in the T. S. above another.—W.Q.J.
TO THE BRAHMINS OF INDIA
144 Madison Ave., New York, April 5, 1893
In the English Theosophical magazine, Lucifer, for the month of February, 1893, is an admirable article by Rai B. K. Laheri of Ludhiana, Punjab, in which he asks his fellow Theosophists to remember that no religious form of belief should be prominently brought forward or disparaged by members of the Theosophical Society, and his words appeared at the very time I was contemplating a fraternal letter to you to show you that that Society is not engaged in any attempt to bring forward the Buddhist religion. I was the pupil and intimate friend of H.P. Blavatsky who founded the Theosophy Society; I took part with her in its first organization; I was conversant with her sleepless devotion and untiring zeal in the work she wanted that Society to do, which was to follow out the plan laid down for it by some of your own Indian Rishees, the Mahâtmas who were her Gurus; I was told by her in the very beginning of that work that her object as directed by her Guru was to bring to the attention of the West the great truths of philosophy contained in the old books and thought of India; I know that her first friends in the work in your country, even before she left this one, were Indians, Brahmins, sons of Aryavarta: hence my sensitiveness to any misapprehension by you of its purposes or of its supporters can be easily understood by you. I am not a Christian nor a member of any religious body; as I was born out of India in this incarnation I could not be a Brahmin under your present laws; but if I am anything I am a follower of and believer in the Vedas; I have therefore a peculiarly deep interest in the philosophy and religious literature of the Indian Aryans, am in strong sympathy with its convictions and spiritual quality, and have in all ways, but especially for the last seven years in my own magazine, the PATH, labored constantly to bring its treasures to the attention of students in this Western World.
Having, then, this triple devotion,—to the teaching of Indian sages, the ideals of the Messenger of your own Rishees, and the welfare of the Theosophical Society, it will be evident to you why the evil so strongly felt by my honored Brahmin co-worker, Bro. Laheri, and by myself should lead me, as an individual and as Vice-President of the T. S., to address as many of you as these words can reach. The evil is this: that a suspicion is spreading through the Brahmin community that the Theosophical Society is losing its impartial character as the equal friend to all religions and is becoming distinctly Buddhistic in its sympathies and affiliations. And the evil is not a mere mistake as to fact: it is evolving the practical consequences that interest in the Society diminishes among its natural friends in Brahmanism, that they hesitate to enter its membership or cooperate in its work, and that they withhold the aid without which the priceless treasures of their literature, So indispensable to the efforts we Theosophists are making to throw light upon the great problems of existence now agitating the Western mind, and thus unite East and West, cannot be used in the spiritual mission the ancient Rishees have approved. In brief, Brahmins will not sustain the Theosophical Society if they believe it a Buddhistic propaganda; nor can they be expected to. No more could Christians, Mahammedans, or Parsees.
Although, as I am unreservedly convinced, this evil is due to misapprehension, it must none the less have had same cause to originate it. I believe this cause to have been threefold. First, the name Esoteric Buddhism given to one of our books. This book, as many of you know, was the first important attempt to bring the truths of real Indian spiritual philosophy to the knowledge of Europe and America. But it was not Buddhism. It was first named Fragments of Occult Truth, and might just as properly have been published with the title Esoteric Brahmanism. Its enormous circulation and influence, both on a constant increase, show the readiness of the Western mind for just this teaching. But its title, adapted from lack of a more accurate term at the time, has naturally led many to suppose it an exposition of mere Buddhism, although its author, Mr. Sinnett, has been at pains to explain the contrary and Madame Blavatsky has also painted out the mistake.
Second, the well-known membership in the Buddhist Church of Col. Olcott, President of the Theosophical Society, and his earnest efforts to unite the two schools of Buddhism, as well as to popularize their teaching and to restore the temple at Buddha-Gaya. And yet you must remember that Col. Olcott was himself invested by Brahmin authorities with the Brahminical thread, the highest possible evidence of confidence in his character, and that he has recently lectured with enthusiasm on the essential unity of the inner teachings of Buddha with your own religion. Nor should any of us forget that any personal predilections for his own faith are as much the right of the President as of any private member of the Society; and that the very Constitution of that Society, the Constitution he himself was active in shaping, forbids the identification of the Society by any officer or member with his personal beliefs in either politics or religion. Those of you who know Col. Olcott must be aware how utterly he would repudiate any wish, or even willingness, to thus abuse his official station.
Third, the incautious remarks of Buddhist members of the Society. No doubt such have at times been made, and in the warmth of personal zeal or in momentary forgetfulness of the scrupulous impartiality a true Theosophist owes to all other lovers of truth, our Buddhist friends have occasionally used comparisons which were unwise. Yet even here we need remembrance that absolute fidelity to the highest ideal, ceaseless prudence in speech and pen, total faultlessness as to tact and wisdom, are not vouchsafed to any body of religionists or to any individual of them. In this, as in other departments of human conduct, there will be lapses of discretion, and it would be unfair to refuse to an inconsistent F.T.S. the allowance we concede to an inconsistent citizen or an inconsistent moralist. Certainly it would be unfair to antagonize the Society because same of its members proved defective in its spirit.
It is my conviction, then, that the suspicion which has thus interfered with the Society’s work and impaired your own interest in it has no real basis. And I think you will share it if you recall such additional facts as these :—the explicit statements of the Society in its Constitution; the absolutely unsectarian spirit and proclamations of its great Head, Madame Blavatsky; the total freedom from sectarian affiliation exhibited in the actual conduct of the Society; the whole-souled devotion to its mission of many, both in East and West, who are not Buddhists in belief; the eager effort by many after all the light and truth your invaluable literature contains; the unqualified welcome given by Western Theosophists to such of your co-believers as they have been privileged to meet in their own lands. And possibly you may give weight to the unreserved assurance from myself, who have been close to Madame Blavatsky from the first and in constant conference and cooperation with her, an active worker in the Society and familiar with its history and genius, that it has not been, is not, and is most unlikely to become the organ of any sect or faith, the thing essential to its operations, nay, even to its existence, being the most absolute catholicity of thought and sympathy and respect. And I may go further, assuring you also that no one would more immediately, sternly, uncompromisingly, ceaselessly resist the contrary policy than would I. I use these words in their fullest significance.
And so the purpose of this letter is to invite a revival of your confidence in the Theosophical Society. In many of you it has never declined. Where it has done so I would restore it. In my own country and in Europe the interest in the work of the Theosophical Society and in Indian philosophy and thought has had an expansion in the last few years which is simply amazing. I can hardly give you adequate idea of the change in the press, in public sentiment, in private study. The Society itself is growing steadily. In America we have seventy-three Branches and shall have seventy-five before this reaches you. Only one is really moribund. This means an increasing zeal for Oriental truth. More expositions of Eastern philosophy are demanded. The three editions I myself published of the Bhagavad-Gita have been exhausted, and a fourth is just coming out. Ancient Aryan ideas and views of life are permeating the land and moulding the convictions of its people. We need help to increase and fix them. Much of this can come only from yourselves and others in India. By your own identification with the Society you can strengthen it for its local work, aiding it to dissolve the barriers between religions and sects and to enliven fraternal feeling through all, assisting in the attempt to uplift higher ideals among your countrymen. And if you cannot join the Society, you can help it by countenancing its work. On our behalf you can transmit those valued treatises which throw light on the great problems of destiny which concern us and you alike, and can thus take part in the truly philanthropic work of giving truth to those who need and ask it. We who are, with you, fellow-seekers after light and aspirants after progress know the joy of sharing our treasures with the sincere, and we invite you to give us more towards such sharing. Like you we are workers in the Rishees cause, and we seek the most efficient aids in that work. If you do not give this aid or if you continue to rest under the wrong impression I have spoken of above, you will interfere with a work that is for the direct benefit of India and of your religion. For our work is meant also to bring the attention of the West to the philosophical and religious truths of the Sacred Books of India, to the end that India may be helped to lift itself up once more to spiritual heights of power and thus in its turn benefit the whole race of man. It is only by teaching the West the soul-satisfying philosophy of the ancient Aryans that we can lead them on as parts of the human family, and as, indeed, perhaps the very nations where some of you may be drawn by Karma to incarnation in some future life. By having a wrong impression of the work of the Society you will be led to speak against it and to throw your powerful influence in the scale opposite to it, and thus very materially hold it back.
I invite you to communicate freely with me in answer to this letter, and to give the letter itself the widest circulation possible among Brahmins. I shall arrange for its translation into a native tongue. And so with respect and sympathy and fraternal spirit, and with the hope that these words may avail to correct an error which has distressed and alarmed me, I am
Your friend, however distant,
WILLIAM Q. JUDGE.
The Letter to the Brahmans
In April, 1893, an open letter to the Brahmans was sent by William Q. Judge. It called them “Brahmans of India,” because its writer holds that there are Brahmans of the past now living in Western bodies, and because the term “Brahman” more properly refers in reality to character than to birth. Copies of the letter were sent all over the T.S. in India. Many criticism were offered, but none were received pointing to the addition for the words “of India.” The letter was translated into Sanscrit, Bengali, and Hindi, and in that form was sent all over India.
Although some F.T.S., without corresponding with the Brahmans to whom the letter was directed, said that it was needless and that no idea existed among the orthodox Brahmans that the T.S. favored Buddhism as against other religions, and although the sender of the letter was chided for it, yet the many letters from the Brahmans who are not in the T.S. all state how glad they were to hear definitely that the T.S. was not to be confounded with a Buddhist propaganda. These letters are in Sanscrit, Hindi, Bengali, and English, and may easily be seen at New York.
In the second place the letter aroused discussion of an important point, for in the West the idea is prevalent that the T.S. is a Buddhist propaganda, and T.S. lecturers have to constantly combat this false notion. It is essential that the public shall not misconstrue us and say that because some doctrines given by Theosophists are Buddhistic therefore the Society is also.
So, carrying out the idea of the Letter to the Brahmans, Bro. Rai B. K. Laheri of Ludhiana, India, himself a Brahman and an F.T.S., went to the great Bharat Dharma Mandala held at Delhi in November, 1893, by the orthodox Brahman pundits, and laid before them the letter referred to. They discussed it and the T.S., and he reports that they passed resolutions to help the T.S., and show they were satisfied that the Society is not a Buddhist propaganda. They then separated for their homes, to carry the letter and their own ideas thereon to the remotest corner of orthodox India. This result will of itself justify the letter. Western readers will the better understand when they know that this Mandala is a great orthodox Brahmanical gathering. They will see that the T.S. cannot afford to shut its eyes to the fact that some millions of Hindus do not use English, in which so much of our literature is written, and that it might be well if we could in some way spread our work among them.
The vernacular work of Bellary members is in line with this. It was brought up at last Indian Convention, but so far as the T.S. is concerned it is now in the hands of a committee. Bros. Jagannathiah and Swaminathiah hope to be successful in the Bellary work. Bro. Laheri also will work to the same end, and many American are willing to help with needed money. It would be perfectly competent for the American Section to raise funds for a work that might result in awakening a great current in India, leading to a revival of interest among Hindus themselves, to a looking up of MSS, both paper and palm lear, to that change in India herself which must come so as to supplement fully the Western activity and devotion.
Brahmans are poor. They are disheartened. No one helps them. Old MSS lie rotting away. Despair is around many a Brahman who formerly had pupils whom he fed, for now he cannot feed himself. Western glitter of invention and materialistic thought has drawn off the young, and some hand must be stretched out to help until the willing ones there are able to help themselves. Such help will be given, and even the letter to the Brahmans has aroused a hope in the breast of many a man in India. Any one wishing to aid in the matter can address the General Secretary, American Section, or Bro. R. B. K. Haheri, Ludhiana, Punjab, India.
The Case of India
[A Second Reply]
SIR:—I have gone through your letter of the 5th April last with great interest and take the earliest opportunity to answer it. I am a high-caste orthodox Brahmin of Bharatdwija Gotra, tracing my spiritual ancestry to Brihaspati and Shang-Yu. I am also intimately acquainted with Col. Olcott, and I think therefore that I have a right to speak on the subject. It is certainly true that many Hindus do not support the Theosophical movement, and some believe it only masked Buddhism; it is also true that the evil is a growing one; but the causes are not those you mention, though individual indiscretions may have fanned the flame.
Ever since the advent of the Theosophical Society in India, skepticism, a sickly hybrid, began to give place to orthodoxy; with orthodoxy is coming bigotry and in some cases superstition, even among Hindu Theosophists who certainly should have known better. Soon after the first sign of the revival of our glorious religion, sprang up a class of interested persons who impose upon the public by pretending to be possessed of more knowledge and power than they really are. Dabblers in Occultism and Tantric ceremonies, impostors and pretenders of Shastric Knowledge with oracular condemnation of everything foreign, find the Theosophical Society a great stumbling-block to the carrying out of their nefarious trade of leading astray the ignorant and unwary, and both these “Masters” and their “Chelas” persistently maintain that there is nothing in the Theosophical Society, and that it is a mere Buddhistic movement.
But our Shastras are being translated in the Vernaculars, published and read with avidity, and ere long the eyes of the public will be opened, but not before, alas! many well meaning persons going over to the other Path, hopelessly wandering for the rest of their present incarnations. Such a sad spectacle is often met with among friends, Theosophists and others, a slave to the order of his “Guru”, a wreck of spiritual aspirations and independence of thinking.
In the meantime, the prominent members of the Theosophical movement in India are calmly looking on, implicitly expecting that everything will be right in course of time. Dormant branches are allowed quietly to die, everyone fondly hoping that they would come to life through their own exertions, forgetting the fact that a diseased Branch, like a diseased child, requires constant care and attendance.
Indians have a natural repugnance to foreigners: beef-eating, wine-bibbing Europeans with a rampant sense of superiority are not the class of persons a good Brahmin likes to associate with, much less to impart to them a real knowledge of his Shastras; and the open hate and contempt with which almost everyone of the European residents in India treats the Indians are certainly not productive of that belief in earnestness of purpose without which it is idle to expect that the real teachings the Brahmins still possess would ever pass on to the foreigners. Regarding the Gita, for instance, now published in Europe and America, no one can understand it fully without, as I hear, the commentary by Hanumanta, the “Monkey God”, who was present throughout the teaching.
Then again, you address to those Hindus only who are acquainted with your language, while your enemies have the advantage of speaking and writing in the vernaculars; and those that do not know the English language, or are acquainted with it very imperfectly, judge of the Society only from what they hear against it. The Indian Section has yet to learn fully and clearly that, to reach the mass or the great middle class, it must utilize native agencies and use the native dialects.
Now I think I have laid before you some at least of the principal causes that hamper the Theosophical movement in India. I hope you will not resent my plain speaking, for it is only thus that we can understand each other. I most sincerely thank you for your earnest appeal and for your favorable opinion of us.
May our still living Rishees reward you!
A. SHAKTA GRIHASTHA OF BENGAL.