The Theosophical Forum – March 1945

THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY AND THE ANCIENT ARYAN CULTURE — G. Frances Knoche

The modern revival of interest in the spiritual culture of Aryavarta, in ancient Sanskrit and Pali Manuscripts, their translation into English and other foreign tongues, received great impetus and support, history reveals, in the early efforts of the Theosophical Society after its chief founder had arrived in Bombay, India, in 1879, from the United States.

Being a philosophical, religious and scientific association of earnest men and women, guided by a profound spiritual impulse, the Society is strictly non-political and unsectarian, having nothing to do with prejudices of any sort, whether of race, caste or creed, its chief aim being the spiritualization of mankind, and the establishment among men of a nucleus of universal brotherhood. To this end the founders, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and Colonel Henry S. Olcott, soon after arrival in India, launched The Theosophist, a monthly magazine in which a series of valuable articles on the Sacred Scriptures of the East appeared, with particular stress on Vedic and Brahmanical writings, these latter being contributed by learned pandits, who, rallying to the cry of the Theosophists to reawaken India to her spiritual treasures, had joined the Society.

In Convention at Bombay, in February, 1880, the first of the four objects of the Theosophical Society as then formulated was: "To discover and make known to the world the truth about the Aryas, by studying their ancient literature, religions and sciences and the various branches that have sprung from that parent stock." A brief survey of the manner in which the Society has fulfilled this objective should be of genuine interest to all Hindus, whether Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya or Sudra.

In order to assist the Buddhists who at that period were subjected to numerous restrictions, Col. Olcott, having taken pansil in May, 1880, collaborated with the High Priest H. Sumangala of Ceylon in compiling and publishing in 1881 a Buddhist Catechism. An edition in Sinhalese translation was soon exhausted and by 1891 the Colonel had succeeded with the aid of his Buddhist friends, in establishing forty-one Buddhist Schools in Ceylon, a work which continues today.

Parallel efforts among the Brahman pandits followed, so that in 1882 Theosophical branches in Amaravati, Madras, in Guntoor, in Bareilly, and in Nellore, started the first Sanskrit Schools which soon effected a tremendous influence in the revival of Aryan culture, being forerunners of the thousands of Sanskrit schools which have since been founded.

As witness of the newly awakened interest in ancient Sanskrit culture, we note Protap Chundra Roy's colossal undertaking to translate the Mahabharata into English prose, the first volume of which was "published and distributed gratis" in 1883. This independent effort of the "Datavya Bharat Karyalya" in Calcutta, was strongly supported by Theosophists, and as time and funds permitted, all eighteen Parvas finally saw the light.

By 1887, "The Theosophical Publication Fund" in Bombay had been established and was issuing numerous Sanskrit philosophical texts with English translations, chief among them being in 1887, Sankara's Vivekachuddmani (Crest Jewel of Wisdom); in 1888 T. Subba Row's Discourses on the Bhagavad-Gita; and in 1891 Dvidedi's translation of the "Twelve Principal Upanishads."

Interest in Sanskrit and the Aryan literature, however, was not confined to the Indian archipelago. So fired were the American Theosophists with the richness and beauty of Vedic thought that William Quan Judge, then General Secretary of the American Theosophical Society, himself published in 1889 an English translation with masterly interpretation of Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms; and in 1890 a complete recension in collaboration with Connelly of Wilkins" edition of the Bhagavad-Gitd appeared — two books which were to become standard Theosophical texts for the various Theosophical Societies all over the world.

To meet the increasing demand for Sanskrit translations, in February, 1891, Mr. Judge founded the "Oriental Department", issuing monthly a paper devoted exclusively to the sacred scriptures of India, made possible by the combined efforts of Brahman pandits in India and Judge's skilful editorship. Under this department Charles Johnston, noted Sanskritist and Fellow of the Theosophical Society, inaugurated Sanskrit Correspondence Courses for the benefit of the American Theosophists.

Today, nearly seventy years since the foundation of the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875, investigation shows that the Theosophical Society with International Headquarters near Covina, California, has persistently sponsored this revival. The stimulus first given has continued, and in 1919 when Theosophical University was established by Katherine Tingley, then leader of the Society, a Chair of Sanskrit was included. Under the personal direction of Dr. Gottfried de Purucker, the Sanskrit Department flourished. One of his pupils, Judith Tyberg, Professor of Sanskrit and Indie Studies at Theosophical University, Covina, has the distinction of being a leading authority in the field of Sanskrit. Besides the regular courses in Sanskrit grammar, advanced courses in Upanishads, Brahmanas, the Bhagavad-Gita, as well as Vedic Sanskrit are given.

In 1936 Theosophical University Press, with the aid of Geoffrey A. Barborka, chief linotype operator, successfully collaborated with technical experts in the Mergenthaler Linotype Company to perfect a system of Sanskrit composition whereby the Devanagari characters could be set upon the linotype, an achievement which placed Theosophical University Press then as the only publishing house in the United States able to set up the Sanskrit characters on the linotype.

A year previously publication was begun of a "Simplified Sanskrit Course" by Dr. Grace Knoche, in serial form in The Lotus Circle Messenger, a Theosophical magazine for teachers and young folk, to interest them in the culture of India and in Sanskrit which H. P. Blavatsky termed "the language of the gods." Its lessons are broadly cultural, the Devanagari text including passages from the Bhagavad-Gita, Hitopadesa, Manavadharmasastra, Upanishads and other classics.

Geoffrey A. Barborka's Gods and Heroes of the Bhagavad-Gitd published in 1939, has now become a valued companion of all Gita lovers.

Sanskrit Keys to the Wisdom Religion — a digest of the profound philosophic and religious interpretation of the many Sanskrit terms used throughout Theosophical literature, by Judith Tyberg and published in 1940, is the result of ten years of teaching both in Europe and America. This, with the publication in 1941 of Ballantyne's First Lessons in Sanskrit Grammar revised by Lawrence A. Ware and Judith Tyberg, forms the basis of Sanskrit Correspondence Courses conducted from Theosophical University at Covina.

It is a source of interest to turn the pages of the many Theosophical journals and to note the large percentage of articles devoted to Orientalia. The present review columns of The Theosophical Forum, published monthly by the Covina Theosophical Society, show that the works of Coomaraswamy, Radhakrishnan, Sri Krishna Prem, and other eminent Oriental scholars, receive favorable and extensive review. Also of importance will be the forthcoming "Theosophical Encyclopedic Glossary," compiled by Theosophists and scholars of many years" standing, and revised and enlarged by its editor, Dr. Gottfried de Purucker, for it will contain over two thousand Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan and other Oriental philosophical terms, Theosophically explained.

In conclusion, the fact that the Covina Theosophical Society as well as Theosophical University have taken such a vital interest in the revival of the philosophy of India should be challenge enough to the modern Hindu to awaken and search out for himself the profound beauties of his noble land, and to make available in European translations more and more of the now buried MSS., so that East and West may wholeheartedly join hands in following the age-old path to spiritual wisdom.


The Theosophical Forum

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE