In a lengthy review of A. Lillie's book, Buddha and Early Buddhism, by M. A. (Oxon), our esteemed friend, the critic, takes the opportunity
for another quiet little fling at his well-wishers, the Theosophists. On
the authority (?) of Mr. Lillie, who seems to know all about it, the reviewer
contradicts and exposes the assertions made and theories enunciated by the
Theosophists. We will now quote from his review "Buddhism and Western
Thought," published in the October number of the Psychological Review:
"It will be evident to any reader, who has
followed me so far, that the Buddhist belief is permeated by what I have
described as a distinctive, 'a peculiar note of Modern Spiritualism the
presence and guardianship of departed spirits'(!?)1 I confess that this struck me with some surprise, and,
I may say, pleased surprise, for I had come to think that there was a marked
antagonism between Eastern and Western modes of thought and belief on this
point. We have heard much in disparagement of this special article of
faith from some friends who have told us a great deal about the theosophical
beliefs of the Hindus and who have chanted the praises of the Buddhistic
as against the Christian faith with vehement laudation of the one
and with abundant scorn of the other. . . . But be this as it
may, we have been told so often, that we have come to accept it as a lesson
from those who know better than ourselves, that our Western belief in the
action of departed human spirits in this world of ours is a crazy fallacy. We have believed at least that such was the Eastern creed. For ourselves, we (some of us at least) prefer our own experience to
the instructions of any whose dogmatic statements are so sweeping as those
with which we are met from Eastern experts. The statements and claims made
have seemed to us altogether too vast. It may be, we are driven to think,
that departed spirits do not operate in the East, but at any rate we find
that they do act in the West. And while we are far from declining
to recognize the truth that pervades much of the Spiritualism of the East,
and have tried our best to induce our friends to widen their view by adopting
it in some degree, we have been sad to think that it should so absolutely
contradict the experience of the West.
"Mr. Lillie affords me some consolation. I find throughout his book
not only most instructive variety of opinion, which I can correlate with
my own beliefs and theories to benefit and advantage, but I find that the
belief in the intervention of departed human spirits, which we had all of
us imagined to be anathema maranatha in the East is, in effect, a
permeating principle of Buddhism in his estimation!" (Part II, p.
The writer, after that, proceeds to speak of "Buddhistic Spiritualism"
. . . a "root-principle" of which is "a belief that the living
may be brought en rapport with their departed friends"; of adepts
being "highly developed mediums"; and quotes an interesting clause
from a chapter of Mr. Lillie's book. Says the last-named authority:
"I have dwelt at length on this supernaturalism, because it is of
the highest importance to our theme. Buddhism was plainly an elaborate
apparatus to nullify the action of evil spirits by the aid of good spirits
operating at their highest potentiality through the instrumentality
of the corpse or a portion of the corpse of the chief aiding spirit. The Buddhist temple, the Buddhist rites, the Buddhist liturgy, all seem
based on this one idea that a whole or portions of
a dead body was necessary. What were these assisting spirits? Every Buddhist,
ancient or modern, would admit at once that a spirit that has not yet attained
the Bodily or Spiritual awakenment cannot be a good spirit. It is still
in the domains of Kama (death, appetite).2 It can do no good thing; more than that, it must do evil things.
. . . The answer of Northern Buddhism, if we consult such books as the 'White
Lotus of Dharma' and the 'Lalita Vistara,' is that the good spirits are
the Buddhas, the dead prophets. They come from the 'fields of the Buddhas'
to commune with earth."
For all this M. A. (Oxon) rejoices, as he thinks it corroborates the
Spiritual theories and is calculated to confound the Theosophists. We, however,
are afraid that it will confound, in the end, but Mr. Lillie. "The
life of Buddha is permeated," says the reviewer, "with what seems
to me uncompromising Spiritualism . . . "; and in triumph adds: "It
is a significant fact that throughout this elucidation of Buddhistic Spiritualism
we have not once come upon an Elemental or Elementary Spirit."
No wonder since they have in Buddhistic and Brahmanical Esotericism their
own special and technical names whose significance, Mr. Lillie if he understood
their meaning as correctly as he did the word Kama was just the
person to overlook, or include in the generic name of "Spirits."
We will not try to personally argue out the vexed question with our friend,
M. A. (Oxon), as our voice might have no more authority with him than Mr.
Lillie's has with us. But we will tell him what we have done. As soon as
his able review reached us, we marked it throughout, and sent both the numbers
of the magazine containing it, to be, in their turn, reviewed and corrected
by two authorities. We have the weakness to believe that these Specialists
in the matter of esoteric Buddhism may be regarded as far greater than Mr.
Lillie or any other European authority is likely to ever be; for these two
are: (1) H. Sumangala Unnanse, Buddhist High Priest of Adam's Peak, Ceylon,
the teacher of Mr. Rhys Davids, a member of our General Council and the
most learned expounder of Southern Buddhism; and (2) the Chohan-Lama of
Rinch-cha-tze (Tibet) the Chief of the Archive-registrars of the secret
Libraries of the Dalai and Ta-shii-hlumpo-Lamas-Rim-boche, also a member
of our Society. The latter, moreover, is a "Pan-chhen," or great
teacher, one of the most learned theologians of Northern Buddhism and esoteric
Lamaism. From the latter we have already received the promise of showing
how very erroneous are, in every case, the views of both, the author and
his reviewer, the message being accompanied by a few remarks to the address
of the former which would have hardly flattered his vanity as an author.
The High Priest Sumangala, we hope, will give his ideas upon "Buddhistic Spiritualism" as well, as soon as he finds leisure no
easy matter, by the way, considering his engagements. If the authority and
learning of Mr. Lillie, after that, will still be placed higher than that
of the two most learned Buddhist expounders of Southern and Northern
Buddhism of our day, then we will have nothing more to say.
Meanwhile, none will deny that esoteric Buddhism and Brahmanism are one for the former is derived from the latter. It well-known, the most important
feature of reform, perhaps, was that Buddha made adeptship or enlightenment (through the dhyâna practices of Iddhi) open
to all, whereas the Brahmans had been jealously excluding all men without
the pale of their own haughty caste from this privilege
of learning the perfect truth. Therefore, in the present connection we will
give the ideas of a learned Brahman upon Spiritualism as viewed from the
esoteric stand-point. The author of the article which follows, than whom,
no layman, perhaps, in India is better versed in the Brahmanical Occult
Sciences3 outside the inner conclave of the
adepts reviews in it the seven-fold principle in man, as given in Fragments
of Occult Truth, and establishes for that purpose an exhaustive
comparison between the two esoteric doctrines the Brahmanical and Buddhistic which
he considers "substantially identical." His letter was written
at our personal request, with no view to polemics, the writer himself being
probably very far from the thought while answering it that it would ever
be published. Having obtained his permission, however, to that effect, we
now gladly avail ourselves of the opportunity. Besides being the best review
we are likely to ever obtain upon so abstruse a subject, it will show M.
A. (Oxon), and our other friends, the Spiritualists, how far such authors
as Mr. Lillie have seized the "root-principle" of the Asiatic
religions and philosophy. At all events the readers will be enabled to judge,
how much modern Spiritualism, as now expounded, is "a permeating principle"
of Brahmanism, the elder sister of Buddhism.
Theosophist January, 1882
H. P. Blavatsky
1 The italics and points
of exclamation are ours. We would like to know what the learned priests
of Ceylon, the lights of Buddhism, such as Sumangala Unnanse, would have
to say to this? Ed.
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2 We have not read Mr. Lillie's
book: but if he teaches in it many other things no truer than his idea that Kama means "Death" his authority is likely to prove of
a most fragile kind Kama never meant death, but lust, desire; in
this sense a passionate desire to live again. Ed.
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3 See article [by Subba Row "The
Twelve Signs of the Zodiac" by the same author in the November
number of the Theosophist. ED.
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