COL. HENRY S. OLCOTT
A pioneer in a great movement, such as that represented by the Theosophical Society, should be known to the contemporary members of the organization, who ought in justice to have information of the work performed by that pioneer. This is especially the case in our Society, for, although it was started in the United States, Colonel Olcott very soon went to India, and there continued the work begun here. When he left this country there was but one Branch in America, and comparatively few members, but now theosophists are found in nearly every State of the Union. Few of them have had time and opportunity to become acquainted with the facts in respect to Colonel Olcott's connection with the movement, and it is for their information that this statement is especially intended. As his work in India has absorbed most of his time, it has necessarily followed that nearly all new members here were deprived of that attention from him which some of them would perhaps be pleased to receive, and, India being so far distant, he has remained for them almost a stranger. Were that effect of distance not rectified in some way, we might be in danger of taking the position temporarily assumed a few years ago by new members similarly situated in India, who, not concurring in his methods as an American, and feeling that they could perhaps suggest a line of action more suited to the English mind and habits, proposed to the Masters a radical change which would involve his retirement from his then prominent position. The reply from The Brothers is worthy of consideration from every thoughtful theosophist.
Having disposed of personal motives, let us analyze your terms for helping us to do public good. Broadly stated, these terms are — first, that an independent Anglo-Indian Theosophical Society shall be founded through your kind services, in the management of which our present representatives (Col. Olcott and H. P. Blavatsky) "shall not have any voice." (1) * * And supposing you were thus to come — As Madame B. did and Mr. O. will —, supposing you were to abandon all for the truth, to toil wearily for years up the hard, steep road, not daunted by obstacles, firm under every temptation; were to faithfully keep within your hearts the secrets entrusted to you as a trial; had worked with all your energies and unselfishly to spread the truth and provoke men to correct thinking and a correct life: would you consider it just, if, after all your efforts, we were to grant to Madame B. or Mr. O. as 'outsiders' the terms you now ask for yourselves. Of these two persons, one has already given three-fourths of a life, the other six years of manhood's prime, to us, and both will so labor to the close of their days; though ever working for their merited reward, yet never demanding it, nor murmuring when disappointed. Even though they respectively could accomplish far less than they do, would it not be a palpable injustice to ignore them in an important field of Theosophical effort? Ingratitude is not among our vices, nor do we imagine you would wish to advise it." (2).
What They wanted, and what the Society needs, is a man of intelligence who can and will work for a high and far Ideal regardless of all opposition, unconcerned as to his future reward. In Colonel Olcott such a man has been found, and by knowing what he has done we shall be able to give reasons for our esteem and loyalty.
Colonel Olcott is a lawyer, and for several years practised law in the city of New York. It is a somewhat curious fact that very many of those well known in the theosophical field are lawyers. I might mention Subba Row and Sreenevasa Row, of Madras. The first is a prominent Hindu pleader; the other is Sub-Judge in Madras. Many Americans have met Mohini M. Chatterji, who was admitted to the Bar in Bengal. A prominent member in Poona, India, is Judge N. D. Khandalavalla, and all over India theosophists are to be found acting as lawyers or judges. In England, a former President of the London Lodge was a well known solicitor, and some of the earnest members there now are in the same profession. In America we of course have a great many members who are lawyers.
When I met Colonel Olcott in 1875, the Theosophical Society had not yet been formed. In October of that year a meeting was held in the apartment of H. P. Blavatsky at 46 Irving Place, New York, at which it was proposed to form a Society for the study of those subjects which have since engaged our attention. In a book now lying before me I have the original minutes of that meeting and of others following it, with the names of all present. So if there be persons anxious to claim the honor of being among the founders of the Society, it will be wise first to be sure that their names are in this book. Possibly such registration will some day be accounted an honor by all, as it now is by advanced minds.
At that first meeting I proposed Colonel Olcott as President of the Society, and was made temporary Secretary myself. A Committee appointed to select a name for the infant met several times after that at Olcott's office, 7 Beekman Street, New York, and decided upon the present name. The objects of the Society had been given to Col. Olcott by the Masters before that; they were adopted and have never been changed. Up to this time Olcott had been a well known Club man, and no one supposed that he would ever show such abnegation as he since has in respect to the things of this world. The wisdom of his selection as President has been vindicated by our history. The Society was unpopular from the outset, and had indeed so little money that all the first diplomas were engrossed by hand by one of the members in this city.
During the period between October, 1875, and November, 1878, Col. Olcott received many letters from the Masters on the subject of the Society in which no promises were made that have not since been fulfilled. He worked steadily with the Society until 1878, and then, in December, went to India with H. P. Blavatsky. When they arrived there, full as many difficulties had to be met as in America, with the additional disadvantage, to Col. Olcott, of being upon strange ground, but they persevered against all opposition. Among such troubles were those caused by the English police, who for a time suspected H. P. Blavatsky to be a Russian spy, a mistake happily remedied by orders from their superiors. In all I say here, it must not be forgotten that the part played by H. P. Blavatsky can never be rightly given to the world, because it would not be understood. Her service and efforts can never be estimated, but they may be glimpsed by intuitional natures.
In Bombay, in 1878, Col. Olcott hired a bungalow as temporary Headquarters. He had then no help and no acquaintance with Indian methods, but Madame Blavatsky and himself started the publication of the Theosophist, and Masters promised to give certain hints through its pages, a promise fufilled by the publication of "Fragments of Occult Truth" (since embodied in "Esoteric Buddhism") and other articles. A young Hindu gentleman, Damodar Mavalankar, soon came and cast in his lot with the Founders, to be later called to Tibet by his Master. In these early days enough troubles of all kinds were experienced to bend any ordinary man of soft metal, but Col. Olcott went straight onward, depending upon the help of Masters to enable him to overcome all obstacles. When the project of starting a real Headquarters took shape he removed to Madras, where he was helped by Iyaloo Naidoo (now of Hyderabad) and others in getting the present building at Adyar. Various Branches had been established and interest was gradually spreading, but nothing could be done anywhere without Col. Olcott, upon whom all the Hindu members had come to rely. This necessitated much travel on his part at a time when his office assistance only comprised Messrs. Damodar, Ananda, and Babajee. Damodar attended to a vast mass of correspondence and worked night and day, snatching his brief rest on skins spread upon the marble floor. Ananda, with similar devotion, gave up a clerkship under Government to work at the accounts and general routine, while Col. Olcott travelled North, South, East, and West, lecturing and stirring up the natives to the truths of ancient philosophy, and, in spite of severe and hurried journeys in a country where all our modern luxury of travel is unknown, his speeches are all excellent, and many of them are thrilling from their exquisite eloquence and diction. He also took complete charge of all Conventions, a step which always resulted in greater unity. Going to Ceylon, he inaugurated a great movement there, and was received into the Buddhist Church by the High Priest, who authorized him to admit others also. He had previously been invested with the Brahminical thread by Brahmins in India, an honor by them considered as the highest possible mark of respect and friendship. The Ceylon movement prospered largely, and now has instituted Sunday Schools, a newspaper, and Headquarters of its own. Each year Col. Olcott makes a tour through India, working with indescribable energy, received everywhere with enthusiasm, lecturing to hundreds in crowded halls, opening schools and other reform societies for boys, and increasing the size and usefulness of Branches in all directions. When he conceived the idea of a grand Asiatic Library at Headquarters in Adyar, he pursued it so vigorously that it soon became a fact, and one of the highest importance. Many palm-leaf M. S. S. which would otherwise be lost will be preserved there, and many rare and often hitherto unknown books will be presented. The Library already numbers 460 volumes in Sanskrit (inclusive of M. S. S.), 263 volumes in other Indian languages, and about 2,000 volumes in Western languages, including the Classics and Hebrew. The very learned N. Bhashvacharya of Cuddapah has consented to become its Director and Professor. A Permanent Fund was also started by Col. Olcott with the object of providing sufficient income for the maintenance and repair of Headquarters, and, as this Fund is slowly growing, it is hoped that it may also pay the expenses of propaganda in time. Hitherto all excess of expenditure above the small sums received from dues and charters has been met by the private means of the two Founders.
Envious minds may think that Col. Olcott, now known all over India and Ceylon as well as being a name of note in Western countries, knew that he should gain a greater fame and wider acquaintance by resigning all that most men esteem as most pleasant and valued in life, just at a time too when the tendency is to grow fast to the personal centre, and going to a far land, there to pass his days in unremitting and arduous labors for the good of humanity, for a sublime Ideal. This is seen to be wrong when we consider that he had no certainty of success, nothing to go upon but promises made by Masters, who do not mix in public matters. Moreover, he had a wide acquaintance here, and all his American friends thought him foolish to go to a distant country on what they call "a wild goose chase" and an impracticable affair all round that "has no money in it." On the other hand, if they now say that he knew well what he was doing when he thus depended on promises made by the Adepts, there is no escape from the conclusion that those Adepts can be trusted, and on their part know the future and what is best for man. The faith of Col. Olcott himself in these great Beings has always remained unshaken, as his last act evinces. He has been several times urged by members to promulgate a creed to be accepted, but has always refused to go one step beyond the original lines and objects laid down by Masters, so that he has been thus greatly instrumental in producing an unsectarian and united Society devoted to spiritual things.
The following extract from a letter to the Simla Eclectic Theosophical Society from the Masters, on this subject, sustains him in his position:
"It is time that Theosophy should enter the arena. The sons of Theosophists are more likely to become in their turn Theosophists than anything else. No messenger of Truth, no prophet, has ever achieved during his lifetime a complete triumph, — not even Buddha. The Theosophical Society was chosen as the corner stone, the foundation, of the future religion of humanity. To achieve the proposed object, a greater, wider, and especially more benevolent intermingling of the high and the low, of the alpha and omega, of society was determined upon. The white race must be the first to stretch out the hand of fellowship to the dark nations. This prospect may not smile to all alike. He is no theosophist who objects to the principle. * * and it is we, the humble disciples of the perfect Lamas, who are expected to allow the Theosophical Society to drop its noblest title, 'The Brotherhood of Humanity,' to become a simple school of philosophy. Let us understand each other. He who does not feel competent enough to grasp the noble idea sufficiently to work for it, need not undertake a task too heavy for him. But there is hardly a theosophist in the whole society unable to effectually help it by correcting the erroneous impression of outsiders, if not by actually propagating himself this idea."
In this loyalty and faith he has found a power which enables him to go on and on under immense strain, ill at times, often in utter darkness as to the morrow's trials, but ever upheld by a self forgetful enthusiasm, ever devoted and forceful as only those men are who live out their inner convictions, who will throw aside all life seems to hold rather than renounce one of these beliefs, and who have based them upon the holy Cause of Universal Brotherhood and the existence of those Masters Who are sharers in the divine and eternal, Who live but for Humanity.
1. Occult World, p. 72 (4th Ed). (return to text)
2. id. p. 73, 74. (return to text)
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