Buddhism and Theosophy

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Theosphical teachings have borrowed some concepts and terms from Buddhism. Some theosophists like Blavatsky, Helena Roerich and Henry Steel Olcott also became Buddhists. Henry Steel Olcott helped shape the design of the Buddhist flag. Tibetan Buddhism was popularised in the West at first mainly by Theosophists including Evans-Wentz and Alexandra David-Neel.

Blavatsky sometimes compared Theosophy to Mahayana Buddhism. In The Key to Theosophy she writes:

But the schools of the Northern Buddhist Church ... teach all that is now called Theosophical doctrines, because they form part of the knowledge of the initiates...[1]

Theosophical revival of Buddhism[edit]

The Buddhists and Colonel Olcott in Colombo (1883)

In 1880 Henry Steel Olcott, President-Founder of the Theosophical Society began to build up the Buddhist Educational Movement in Ceylon. In 1880 there were only two schools in Ceylon managed by the Buddhists. Due to the efforts of Olcott the number rose to 205 schools and four colleges in 1907 (Ananda College in Colombo, Mahinda College in Galle, Dharmaraja College in Kandy and Maliyadeva College in Kurunegala). Thus began the great Buddhist revival in Ceylon. Col. Olcott also represented the Buddhist cause to the British government, and found redress for the restrictions imposed against Buddhists, such as the prohibition of processions, Buddhist schools, the improved financial administration of temple properties, and so on.[2]

The Books of Kiu-te[edit]

Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup (a translator of The Tibetan Book of the Dead) said that Blavatsky had "intimate acquaintance with the higher lamaistic teachings".[3][4]

Blavatsky wrote in The Secret Doctrine,

The Book of Dzyan – from the Sanskrit word "Dhyan" (mystic meditation) – is the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-Te, and a Glossary of the public works of the same name. Thirty-five volumes of Kiu-Te for exoteric purposes and the use of the laymen may be found in the possession of the Tibetan Gelugpa Lamas, in the library of any monastery; and also the fourteen books of Commentaries and Annotations on the same by the initiated Teachers.

Strictly speaking, those thirty-five books ought to be termed "The Popularised Version" of the Secret Doctrine, full of myths, blinds and errors; the fourteen volumes of Commentaries, on the other hand – with their translations, annotations, and an ample glossary of Occult terms, worked out from one small archaic folio, the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World – contain a digest of all the Occult Sciences. These, it appears, are kept secret and apart, in the charge of the Teshu Lama of Tji-gad-je [Shigatse]. The Books of Kiu-Te are comparatively modern, having been edited within the last millenium, whereas, the earliest volumes of the Commentaries are of untold antiquity, some fragments of the original cylinders having been preserved. With the exception that they explain and correct some of the too fabulous, and to every appearance, grossly-exaggerated accounts in the Books of Kiu-Te – properly so-called – the Commentaries have little to do with these.[5]

The identification of Blavatsky's "Books of Kiu-te" as the Tantra section of the Tibetan Buddhist canon was made by Buddhologist David Reigle.[6]

Voice of the Silence[edit]

Zen Buddhism scholar D. T. Suzuki wrote about Blavatsky's book The Voice of the Silence: "Undoubtedly Madame Blavatsky had in some way been initiated into the deeper side of Mahayana teaching and then gave out what she deemed wise to the Western world..."[7] He also commented: "Here is the real Mahayana Buddhism."[8]

In 1927 the staff of the 9th Panchen Lama Tub-ten Cho-gyi Nyima helped Theosophists put out the "Peking Edition" of The Voice of the Silence.[9]

The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso wrote in the preface to the 1989 Centenary edition of The Voice of the Silence, "I believe that this book has strongly influenced many sincere seekers and aspirants to the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva Path." [10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Blavatsky, H.P. (11 August 2007). The Key to Theosophy. United States of America: Theosophy Trust. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-9793205-2-1. 
  2. ^ Revival of Buddhism in Ceylon.
  3. ^ See The Tibetan Book of the Dead, p. 7 footnote.
  4. ^ "The Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup was not only knowledgeable of the Secret Doctrine, like Evans-Wentz, but in a position to confirm the genuineness of some of HPB's statements regarding esoteric Tibetan teachings." Sanat, Aryel Transformation: Vital essence of HPB's Secret Doctrine. Part 2. – Note 24.
  5. ^ Blavatsky H.P. The Secret Doctrine, Vol.3, p. 405.
  6. ^ See Reigle, David Books of Kiu-Te, or The Tibetan Buddhist Tantras. San Diego: Wizard's Bookshelf, 1983.
  7. ^ Eastern Buddhist, old series, 5:377
  8. ^ The Middle Way, August 1965, p. 90.
  9. ^ Blavatsky H.P. The Voice of the Silence, ed. Alice Cleather and Basil Crump. Peking: Chinese Buddhist Research Society, 1927. – P. 113
  10. ^ Blavatsky Helena The Voice of the Silence. Centenary edition. Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, 1989. // Foreword by the 14th Dalai Lama.

Further reading[edit]