If the saying of the witty Sydney Smith, that you cannot get a joke into a Caledonian head without trepanning the skull be true, no less certain is it that a false idea once rooted in certain minds, cannot be dislodged without decapitation. Our illustrious friend Sir Richard Temple would seem to be of the latter class. While at Bombay he conceived the absurd notion that the Theosophical Society and Brahmo Samaj were somehow interchangeable titles, and that the former was a religious “sect.” The President of our Bombay Branch, Rao Bahadur Gopalrao Hurree Desmukh was a member of his own Legislative Council, and would have told him the facts; and we took the earliest possible opportunity (Theosophist, Vol. ii, page 139)1 to undeceive him in these columns after reading his Sheldonian speech at the Oxford University. But with an amusing tenacity he clings to his misconceptions, and has just repeated them to all England (Fortnightly Review, article: “Indian Mysticism”) as though he had never been contradicted! We fear he is himself past all remedy, and that he will go on speaking and writing about our new “sect” until he disappears from view under the Great Extinguisher that snuffs out every man’s candle, sooner or later. Yet, as we have a character to preserve, we shall quote a paragraph or two from his latest magazine article, that we may once more enter our protest against the imputation that our Society is in any sense a sect, and the still worse one that it has any connection, or is responsible in any degree for, the vagaries of the Minister of the New Dispensation, of Kailas and Calcutta.
Sir Richard says of “that new school of Indian thought, which is the product of Western civilization”:
The natives of this school have many religious convictions of a negative kind, but less of a positive nature. The Indian name assumed by the most prominent among them is “Brahmo;” some of them have adopted, apparently from Transatlantic quarters, the designation of Theosophists—and by the best English authority they are termed the Hindu religious reformers. The originator was Ram Mohun Roy, and the best expounder now living is Keshub Chunder Sen, both of Calcutta. But ramifications of this sect and kindred sects moving in a parallel direction, have spread, throughout the three Presidencies of Bengal, Madras, and Bombay. The intellectual tendencies of these sects have been described in the answer to the preceding question; and inquirers will ask whether the religion of these people is at all likely to be the religion of the future in India.
On its negative side this religion renounces superstition, paganism, monstrosities, and absurdities of all sorts. It abjures Atheism and Materialism. It repudiates Mohammedanism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. It regards Christianity not as a religion to be adopted, but as one of several ways leading towards pure and abstract truth. It looks towards the Vedas and other ancient writings, handed down from the Aryan Hindus, as constituting another of these ways. It holds the minds of its adherents as open mirrors ready to catch the rays of truth whencesoever coming. It fails to find that this truth has anywhere been finally and definitely revealed. Then, on its positive side, it is Theism, including faith in a Supreme Being, in the abstract principles of right and wrong, in the immortality of the soul, in the accountability of mankind during a future state for good or evil done during this life. The dictates of the conscience, the power of the moral sense, are fully acknowledged. But there hangs about all the tenets much of haziness, of dreaminess, and of mysticism generally. This faith is likely to become the religion of the immediate future among the educated classes of Hindus, but will hardly supplant Hinduism among the masses for a long time to come. Christianity has not as yet spread sufficiently to become an actual power in the country. It hardly possesses half a million of native adherents, but that number may, at an ordinary rate of progress, from conversion and natural increment, be augmented within a generation to something between one and two millions. Whether there will be any extraordinary accession from the ranks of the Hindu Theists it is impossible to hazard a prediction.
There are very conflicting opinions with respect to Sir Richard Temple’s abilities as a statesman, but all must concede that no critic of the Theosophical Society has ever equalled him in the talent for totally misconceiving its nature, objects, and aims. His present article shall have the prominent place it deserves in our scrapbook among the comical excerpts from contemporary periodical literature. What fresh surprise has he in store for us?
[1. We reproduce the referenced segment here. See also: “On Sir Richard Temple’s Lecture”, Theosophist, December, 1880.]
In the Sunday Mirror of February 20, we find a paragraph in which Sir Richard Temple’s opinion on the Brahmo Samaj is quoted from his India in 1880 to the effect that “quite recently they (the Brahmos) have adopted the name of Theosophists.” This, one of the many inaccurate statements made in his book by Sir Richard Temple upon India in general and Indian religions especially, seems to have spurred the Brahmos to a quick repudiation of any connection whatever with the Theosophists. The able organ of the New Dispensation says:—“The reference to the Theosophists is a mistake. The Brahmos have never identified themselves with the Theosophists.”
Amen. Nor have the Theosophists identified themselves with them. But whether either the one or the other have acted the most wisely in this, is another question. The Theosophical Society includes members of nearly every known religion, sect, and philosophy, none of them clashing or interfering with the other, but each trying to live in peace with his neighbour. The universal tolerance preached by us is but the active protest against mental slavery. We have as is known, purely Buddhistic, purely Christian, and purely orthodox Hindu branches, and societies allied with us; and union is strength. But of this anon. For the present we would be glad to learn from our esteemed friends and Brothers—if unhappily not allies—the Brahmos, why, while hastening to repudiate Sir Richard’s connection of them with us, they have allowed to pass unnoticed another still more serious “mistake” made by the ex-Governor of Bombay? Speaking of them in his lecture (in furtherance of the Oxford mission to Calcutta) he said that the Brahmos “are almost, though not entirely,Christians” . . . “lingering upon the very threshold of Christianity” . . . “almost persuaded to be Christians.” Unless there has been a like repudiation of the uncalled-for charge which has escaped our notice, is it possible that the latter should have been passed over only because Christianity is popular among the British rulers and Theosophy—is not?—H.P.B., Theosophist, March, 1881.