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Upasika Blavatsky & Upasaka Olcott - Dhamma Wheel

Upasika Blavatsky & Upasaka Olcott

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.
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Will
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Upasika Blavatsky & Upasaka Olcott

Postby Will » Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:38 pm

Last edited by Will on Thu Jan 12, 2012 12:53 am, edited 2 times in total.
A bodhisattva does not become weary of evil beings nor does he commit the error of bringing forth thoughts inclined to reject them and cast them aside. Avatamsaka Sutra, ch. 25

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zavk
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Re: Upasika Blavatsky

Postby zavk » Wed Jan 11, 2012 4:56 am

With metta,
zavk

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Ben
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Re: Upasika Blavatsky

Postby Ben » Wed Jan 11, 2012 5:18 am

Hi Ed,
Very interesting indeed. Years ago before I took refuge I had a brief dalliance with the Theosophical Society of NSW in Sydney. I attended some interesting lectures and read a few books by Blavatsky. Fortunately I discovered Buddhadhamma elsewhere which is ironic in that the TS was so influential in introducing Buddhism to the West.

Yesterday there was a program on ABC Radio National on Madame Blavatsky, the Theosophical Society and their building of an ampitheatre at Balmoral Beach to welcome the second coming of Christ in the form of JR Krishnamurti walking across the water through the Sydney Heads. Of course, Krishnamurti declined the role of messiah and the Theosophists disappeared somewhat.

I am not surprised by Olcott's condescending attitude towards Asian Buddhists and I think those attitudes are alive and well today.
kind regards,

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Will
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Re: Upasika Blavatsky

Postby Will » Wed Jan 11, 2012 3:46 pm

This thread was started mainly to counter the misunderstandings of Blavatsky based on secondary sources.

But Olcott was right. The missionaries had nearly crushed out of existence the Dhamma in Ceylon. It was Olcott who started Buddhist schools that gradually replaced the Xtian ones. The fact that representatives of the all-conquering white, Xtian peoples did not look upon the Dhamma & the followers of it with contempt, but instead embraced the Dhamma, helped immensely the psyche of the Ceylonese.

Read Dharmapala's positive reaction to their arrival in ch. 9. His attitude was typical of the Dhamma followers. If some scholar of a century later wants to find fault with their motives or attitudes (as if he could know motives) - so be it - that is what most scholars do anyway.
A bodhisattva does not become weary of evil beings nor does he commit the error of bringing forth thoughts inclined to reject them and cast them aside. Avatamsaka Sutra, ch. 25

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Kim OHara
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Re: Upasika Blavatsky

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:26 pm


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zavk
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Re: Upasika Blavatsky

Postby zavk » Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:17 pm

Last edited by zavk on Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
With metta,
zavk

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Will
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Re: Upasika Blavatsky

Postby Will » Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:21 pm

Kim,

The assumption that Olcott & Blavatsky had "baggage" of the type you mention is not likely true. That generalization applies to many Victorians, but these two were very odd ducks, as their rebellious lives show hostility to the conventional worldview, not sympathy.

[I edited the title of thread to include Olcott. His multivolume Old Diary Leaves covers much, including his trips to Siam & Japan, fostering Buddhism.]

zavk: Yes, I admit to prejudice against many "scholars" because their work is so superficial & sloppy. If a discrepancy is found -ergo - hypocrisy or charlatanism or Protestantism etc, is at the root. I am wrong to paint all with such a broad brush - but they tick me off.

By the way, instead of suggesting or hinting at some Victorian influence on today's Buddhists, why not say what these effects are?

As for Olcott using the proven didactic skills of the Xitans - so what? He should have done what instead?
A bodhisattva does not become weary of evil beings nor does he commit the error of bringing forth thoughts inclined to reject them and cast them aside. Avatamsaka Sutra, ch. 25

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zavk
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Re: Upasika Blavatsky & Upasaka Olcott

Postby zavk » Thu Jan 12, 2012 12:12 am

Hi Will

I'll try to flesh out some of the stuff I alluded to. But I just want to point out at the outset that in presenting these points, I'm not interested in 'proving' whether Olcott or whoever got it right or wrong, nor am I trying to say what their intentions truly are. If anything these points illustrate the conditions in which they were working, and I'm merely trying to reflect on how these conditions of the past may continue to influence the conditions today.

So for example, while Dharmapala welcomed Olcott, some years later he disassociated himself from Olcott, criticising him for being 'ignorant' and for betraying Buddhism and the Sinhalese (the many studies on Protestant Buddhism discuss this). What interests me is not whether Olcott was right or whether Dharmapala was right. Rather, I'm interested in the conditions that prompted the animosity between them... what does it tell us about the relationship between Western interpretations of Buddhism and Asian interpretations. How have these tensions played out? How have they shaped current understandings?

Anyway... to respond to your point about the influence of Victorian interpretations of Buddhism. One key influence is that they foregrounded the ethical and philosophical dimensions of Buddhism over its religious aspects. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, as long as it is recognised that this reflects certain Western interests. One implication of such a interpretation is that traditional Asian Buddhist practices were, and still are, dismissed as somehow 'corrupted' or seen as merely 'cultural' practices--I hope it is clear how such an attitude can become unskilful.

But to give a more concrete example, arising out of the interpretations of 'Victorian Buddhism' (this is discussed in the book The British Discovery of Buddhism by Philip Almond) is the idea that 'true' Buddhism is atheistic or agnostic. So we find Rhys Davids declaring authoritatively, ‘Agnostic atheism was the characteristic of the [Buddha’s] system of philosophy.’As we have seen here (for example, in threads about Stephen Batchelor), while such interpretations of Buddhism have its value, they are far from straightforward or self-evident. When taken to an extreme, it can lead to misunderstandings about the Dhamma and also encourage condescending attitudes towards others. In his book, Buddhist Religions, Bhikkhu Thanissaro didn't appear to view such a development favourably. In the chapter about Victorian interpretations of Buddhism, he described it in terms of 'the cult of agnosticism'. Again, I apologise that I don't have his book with me at the moment, but I will just have to hope that you would accept this in good faith.

An re: your point about Olcott using Christian-like approaches. Yes, of course it is hard to imagine what else he could have done. But what he did produced certain effects and these effects have influenced the way Buddhism developed in Ceylon. The issue is too large and complex to discuss here in a succinct manner. If you're interested, you might wish to look into the work of Richard Gombrich and others on Buddhism in Ceylon, or you could also look into works on 'Buddhist modernism' or 'modernist Buddhism'.
With metta,
zavk

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Kim OHara
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Re: Upasika Blavatsky

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Jan 12, 2012 1:12 am


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Will
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Re: Upasika Blavatsky & Upasaka Olcott

Postby Will » Thu Jan 12, 2012 4:20 am

A bodhisattva does not become weary of evil beings nor does he commit the error of bringing forth thoughts inclined to reject them and cast them aside. Avatamsaka Sutra, ch. 25

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Kim OHara
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Re: Upasika Blavatsky & Upasaka Olcott

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Jan 12, 2012 7:06 am

Okay, Will, I will admit to being lazy about checking my facts :embarassed: - but not about my general points, i.e. HPB and co were children of their time/s and place/s even if they rebelled against aspects of their backgrounds, and even *in* their rebellion against their backgrounds.
As for reading about them ... not again, unless a particularly good book comes my way. Like many others here, I explored other traditions in some depth before, and sometimes alongside, Buddhism - mostly a long time ago.
If you are interested in that period, you might enjoy The Harmonious Circle (see ).

:namaste:
Kim


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