The Singapore Lodge Theosophical Society
Henry Steel Olcott
Henry Steel Olcott
Col. H. S. Olcott passed away from the physical plane on 17 February 1907 after serving 32 years as the President-Founder of The Theosophical Society. He is remembered for his tireless effort during his lifetime working for the cause of The Theosophical Society at the bidding of his Master and serving the Great Ones. Of him one of the Masters say, “Him, we can trust under all circumstances, and his faithful service is pledged to us come well come ill.”
2007 is the centennial anniversary of Colonel Olcott’s death and members of the Theosophical Society from all over the world remember this great man and his work. We commemorate the centenary by publishing this newsletter in his memory.
“Col. Olcott is doubtless 'out of time with the feelings of English people' of both classes; but nevertheless more in time with us than either. Him, we can trust under all circumstances, and his faithful service is pledged to us come well come ill. My dear Brother, my voice is the echo of impartial justice. Where can we find an equal devotion? He is one who never questions but obeys; who may make innumerable mistakes out of excessive zeal but never is unwilling to repair his fault even at the cost of the greatest self-humiliation; who esteems the sacrifice of comfort and even life something to be cheerfully risked whenever necessary; who will eat any food, or even go without; sleep on any bed, work in any place, fraternize with any outcast, endure any privation for the cause. . . .”
A Master of the Wisdom
Citizen of the World:
Colonel Olcott and Human
Summary of Public Lecture on 26.12.2006 at
the 131st International Convention of The Theosophical Society
The theme of this convention is ‘A Constant Eye to Human Perfection’. That theme is drawn from a much-loved statement called ‘The Golden Stairs’. It is appropriate, therefore, that we should consider the source of our convention theme and seek its meaning in the larger context of ‘The Golden Stairs’. But also, as this convention is being held on the eve of the centenary of the death of our President-Founder, Henry Steel Olcott, it is appropriate to look at our theme as it applies to him.
The statement of ‘The Golden Stairs’ begins with an injunction telling us to pay attention. That is followed by a list of thirteen qualities which constitute the steps comprising a stairway leading from the outer world of ignorance (that is, avidya) to the inner world of divine wisdom (that is, Brahmavidya or Theosophy). And it concludes with a summary comment about the thirteen qualities or steps.
The opening injunction is, ‘Behold the truth before you’. It tells us that what we need to know is right there in front of us; we need only to remember it. This lost truth is what the thirteen steps of the Golden Stairs lead us to.
The steps of the winding Golden Stairs consist, we may say, of three turnings of five, four, and four steps, respectively. The five steps of the first turning are qualities of character that need to be developed: ‘A clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, an unveiled spiritual perception.’
The four steps of the second turning on the Stairs refer to our relationship with others who are climbing those stairs with us: ‘a brotherliness for one's co-disciple, a readiness to give and receive advice and instruction, a loyal sense of duty to the Teacher, a willing obedience to the behests of TRUTH, once we have placed our confidence in, and believe that Teacher to be in possession of it.’
The last turning on the Stairs consists of four steps that concern how we deal with the world at large: ‘a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a brave declaration of principles, a valiant defence of those who are unjustly attacked, and a constant eye to the ideal of human progression and perfection which the secret science (Gupta Vidya) depicts.’
The final step on the last turning of the Golden Stairs includes the theme of this convention: ‘a constant eye to human perfection.’ Everything we do should be done for one purpose: awareness of the ideal of human progression and perfection.
At the Feet of the Master tells us: ‘God has a plan and that plan is evolution. When once we have seen that and really know it, we cannot help working for it and making ourselves one with it, because it is so glorious, so beautiful.’ The divine plan is evolution, and evolution is progress towards human perfection. We will never reach that perfection because it constantly grows before us. The world does not evolve towards a fixed and set culmination, but rather towards an ever-expanding, glorious and beautiful unification of all life.
And so the statement concludes with a summary: ‘These are the golden stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the Temple of Divine Wisdom.’ That Temple is not located in some mysterious space outside of us. It is located in the very centre of our being. We ourselves build that Temple as we climb the Golden Stairs into the place which The Voice of the Silence refers to as ‘the inmost chamber, the chamber of the Heart’.
Is it possible to maintain ‘a constant eye to human perfection’? Yes, we know it is possible because some have done so. One who did was our Founder-President, Henry Steel Olcott. He continuously approached the realization of human unity by living as a true citizen of the world.
Olcott was an American who made his home in India, and became a citizen of the world. He was one of the most widely travelled men of his age, covering literally hundreds of thousands of miles by land and by sea, over many parts of the Earth. All his travels were service to humanity. For instance, he made several of his trips to England on behalf of the civil and religious rights of the Sinhalese. He also worked for the reconciliation of all schools of Buddhist thought. He became a national hero in Sri Lanka and was a major figure in the Buddhist revival.
Olcott was no narrow sectarian. He regarded Buddhism as one of humanity’s major efforts to find truth, alongside with other great religions as Hinduism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. All of these he saw as expressions of the divine wisdom of the Masters, set forth in differing forms for various peoples. Olcott cared for ordinary human beings wherever he found them. He had healing powers, which he used to relieve suffering and restore health to those who came to him.
Henry Steel Olcott agreed fully with the Latin playwright Terence, who said, ‘I am a human being: I consider nothing of humanity to be foreign to me.’ Olcott’s commitment to universal humanity makes him a model of tolerance, understanding, and service for all of us. He is one whose whole life was a climbing of the Golden Stairs to the Temple of Divine Wisdom. As such, he is a model for all Theosophists to follow. Of Olcott, the Master KH wrote: ‘Him we can trust under all circumstances, and his faithful service is pledged to us come well, come ill. . . . Where can we find an equal devotion?’
Colonel Olcott climbed the Golden Stairs. He was not American, nor Indian, nor Sri Lankan. He was a citizen of the world. He was human, and nothing of humanity was foreign to him. He had a constant eye to human perfection, and thereby became a model for every human being.
Colonel Henry Steel Olcott
Extract from the Presidential Address
To the 131st Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society
Consider the life of Colonel Olcott. He was a practical man, an expert in agriculture. He had served his country well, in war and in peace. He had a promising career as a lawyer and a gentleman correspondent for New York newspapers. But when he met Madame Blavatsky, he heard a call from another world. And he answered it. He committed himself to the service of the Masters. And service to them is done through service to the world.
In New York City, Colonel Olcott was inspired to suggest the founding of the Theosophical Society, without knowing what it was to be. Then he answered a call to come to India without knowing what to expect — knowing only that he had been called by his svadharma to travel around the world to a new life. He worked for the civil rights of Sri Lankans and travelled to England in pursuit of those rights. He laboured for the welfare of the socially deprived in India. He was concerned for children and provided schools for their education. He discovered that he had healing powers, and benefited many people by curing them of their ailments. He promoted learning and the study of ancient Indic manuscripts; he founded the Adyar Library for that purpose. He was a moving force in the Buddhist revival, promoting understanding among all branches of that religion. He dealt fairly and honestly with all people.
Colonel Olcott was not only the President-Founder of the Theosophical Society, he was in many ways a model Theosophist. The Colonel was not perfect; he was human. But he followed the injunction of the Master: he tried. And in trying, he set an example for all of us who come after him. When he came to the end of his life, he could appropriately hear the words that Christ put into the mouth of a master in his parable of the talents: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant. . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord.’ ....
A Recent Conversation with the Mahatmas
Excerpts from The
Theosophist, February 1907
… Some of the members of the Society ... with an exaggerated moral sense believe that the Teachers of mankind cannot employ agents that are not above the weaknesses of the physical body, and contact with whom would be supposed to morally taint Them.
The others (who, if we make a careful study of history, must be regarded as having some knowledge and common sense on their side) consider that these invisible Teachers, in order to reach the masses and especially to penetrate to the very depths of human society, are forced to employ agents or messengers, who possess many of the failings of mankind; but that they must also possess a high standard of ideals and spirituality, at least enough to enable them to be useful instruments for conveying the lofty precepts and high teachings which it is incumbent upon them to give out, in order to carry out the will of Those who employ them. ...
So I asked the Mahatmas [and M. answered:]
. . . Where can you find us perfect instruments at this stage of evolution? Shall we withhold knowledge that would benefit humanity, simply because we have no perfect instruments to convey it to the world?
... I can give no better examples than the Founders, to corroborate what the Mahatma said, for in spite of our manifold shortcomings and physical weaknesses, They did not hesitate to employ us as their instruments, because They saw in us the capacity of becoming loyal, true workers. . . .
Now and again appears a person who, despite moral failings, can serve as a channel for high teachings. Yet the very fact of his moral taint would naturally put us on our guard for fear that we might fall into the trap of our own credulity, and take the teachings without proper scrutiny.
The Mahatma ... said it should be the sacred duty of every Theosophist, if he finds a Brother guilty of a wrong, to try to prevent that Brother from continuing in his wrongdoing, and to protect others from being contaminated by that wrong so far as it is possible; but it is also his duty as a Theosophist to shield his Brother from being held up unnecessarily to general public condemnation and ridicule.
I shall now close this article with the first direct message from the Masters Themselves sent through me to the Society as a whole:
Let those who believe in our existence, and that we are behind the Theosophical Movement — also that we shall continue to employ it as an agency for the uplifting of mankind — know, that we are sometimes forced to employ imperfect instruments (because of the lack of perfect ones) for our work; therefore, cease from such turmoil and strife, and from causing such disturbance in the Unity of Brotherhood, and thus weakening its strength; but instead, work together in harmony, to fit yourselves to be useful instruments to aid us, instead of impeding our work. We who are behind the Theosophical Movement are powerless, sometimes, to prevent the checks and disturbances that must unavoidably arise, because of the Karma of individual members; but you can aid us much by refusing to take part in such disturbances, and by living true to the highest possible ideals of Theosophy. Should any event bring forth seeming injustice, have faith in the Law that never fails to adjust matters. Cease rushing headlong into strife, or taking part in dissensions! Hold together in brotherly love, since you are part of the Great Universal Self. Are you not striving against yourselves? Are not your Brother's sins your own? Peace! Trust in us.