The Indian tradition and HPB’s influence
I was pursuing the Blavatsky issue somewhat, since it is a useful field of reflection on the ‘gurdjieff con’.
I looked at Cranston’s bio of HPB, somewhat less than an expose, a al Peter Washington. But it produced one insight, reflected here in this web quote: the Indian tradition, in a tremendous, almost terminal slump, got a tremendous shot in the arm from Blavatsky’s Theosophical movement.
Gurdjieff, et al., seeing this phenomenon rushed into the fray as imitators.
Blavatsky and Buddhism
Religious Practitioners on HPB
If Blavatsky were only championed by a small group of devotees, and ridiculed by everyone else, one could conclude that she was merely a cult leader. But Bharati is right in at least one respect, namely that “Blavatsky’s work has had signal importance” on Western interpretations of Eastern thought, and to some degree on Eastern people’s interpretation of themselves. Perhaps it is Blavatsky’s Theosophical influence on the Eastern hemisphere which is least familiar to Western scholars. During Blavatsky’s lifetime, over 125 branches of the Theosophical Society sprang up in India, more than the total branches of the T.S. in all other countries combined. For a time, the Theosophical Society joined forces with the Arya Samaj and other native Hindu and Buddhist revival movements, while the Indian National Congress, later to be so instrumental in gaining India’s independence, was formed and run largely by British Theosophists, especially Allan O. Hume. (18) S. Radhakrishnan, one of India’s leading philosophical and political figures this century, writes,
When, with all kinds of political failures and economic breakdowns we were suspecting the values and vitality of our culture, when everything round about us and secular education happened to discredit the value of Indian culture, the Theosophical Movement rendered great service by vindicating those values and ideas. The influence of the Theosophical Movement on general Indian society is incalculable. (19)
In 1975, for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Theosophical Society, the Indian government commissioned a stamp with the distinctive logo and the motto of the Theosophical Society, “There is no religion higher than truth.”
In Sri Lanka the Theosophical impact was even more profound. To the present day, February 17th is a Sri Lankan holiday, honoring the birthday of the first President of the Theosophical Society, Henry S. Olcott, champion of Buddhism and foe of Christianity. When Olcott and Blavatsky arrived in Sri Lanka in 1880, Christian missionaries had completely dominated the island, and the education of youth was almost entirely in the hands of Christian schools-only two Buddhist schools existed. By 1900, due to the effective ideological and financial campaigns of the Theosophists, over 200 Buddhist-run schools were in operation, as well as a Buddhist Theosophical Society with many branches busily engaged in printing newspapers and administering land.(20) Theosophists cannot be held responsible for the entire revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, as Richard Gombrich rightly remarks; the ground had been well-prepared by the advent of widespread literacy, the rise of a middle class, and the inculcation in learned Sri Lankans of Protestant values.(21) Nevertheless, it is clear that the Theosophical impact was far-reaching. (22)