Sunday, August 21, 2016

Henry Steel Colonel Olcott

Henry Steel Colonel Olcott
Colonel Henry Steel Olcott (2 August 1832 – 17 February 1907) was an American military officer, journalist, lawyer and the co-founder and first President of the Theosophical Society.
Olcott was the first well-known American of European ancestry to make a formal conversion to Buddhism. His subsequent actions as president of the Theosophical Society helped create a renaissance in the study of Buddhism. Olcott is considered a Buddhist modernist for his efforts in interpreting Buddhism through a Westernized lens.
Olcott was a major revivalist of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and he is still honored in Sri Lanka for these efforts. Olcott has been called by Sri Lankans "one of the heroes in the struggle of our independence and a pioneer of the present religious, national and cultural revival".

Theosophical Society

From 1874 on, Olcott's spiritual growth and development with Blavatsky and other spiritual leaders would lead to the founding of the Theosophical Society. In 1875, Olcott, Blavatsky, and others, notably William Quan Judge, formed the Theosophical Society in New York City, USA. Olcott financially supported the earliest years of the Theosophical Society and was acting President while Blavatsky served as the Society's Secretary.
In December 1878 they left New York in order to move the headquarters of the Society to India. They landed at Bombay on February 16, 1879. Olcott set out to experience the native country of his spiritual leader, the Buddha. The headquarters of the Society were established at Adyar, Chennai as the Theosophical Society Adyar, starting also the Adyar Library and Research Centre within the headquarters.
I forget the exact motives of Olcott and I believe his outlook was much broader but with resurgence of Buddhist revival in Ceylon, his original ideas metamorphosed to a single theme.
His broader inquiry stretched into to religion, philosophy and science, not spirituality alone.But his followers in Ceylon put fullstops to science and philosophy.

Looking for absolute truth
I never joined a club or secret society in my entire life.
Club mentality was an alien theme to me, for the simple reason of confining myself to a narrow segment of free inquiry closes all avenues for new emerging knowledge,especially science.
Having returned from united Kingdom with lot of new ideas, I was invited to a symposium organized by a spiritual organization. I grabbed the opportunity and said it should include all three disciplines, philosophy, religion and science (no politics by conviction). 

I took the responsibility of organizing it but did not have a clue how to approach the philosophy theme.
Luckily, I knew Monte Gopallawa, mostly indirectly (my sisters batch) who had read philosophy in his undergraduate studies. He was the Governor of the Central Province and was easy to approach. Through his offices I managed an introduction to Professor 

A.D.P Kalansuriya.
We decided to have a “short weekly discussion” in the University of Peradeniya and invited few guys and girls. In the first discussion we had about 10 and in one of the subsequent discussions, one guy (I did not know) in a national dress, who came from the Buddhist background, started arguing on a flimsy point slanted towards Buddhism, off the track of professors theme by many a mile.
Professor in his inimitable way, tried to put him on the track with very short doses of philosophy. This idiot went on in circles and after waiting awhile, annoyed to the brim, I blasted this guy and told him, we came to listen to philosophy not Buddhism (this idiot’s interpretation, not Buddha’s) and you better get out of this room or I will throw you out physically.
I got up from my seat and showed him, I meant what I said.
He with few of his followers left the room and there was one other guy (may be my very young brother in law) beside me left in the room.
Professor had a bright smile in his face and after a pause said these guys cannot understand a simple term in philosophy.
That is the problem I am faced with.
We continued to have the discussion as planned and in subsequent discussion I was the only guy left.

Prof ADP Kalansooriya
The above incident brought us together and he had few medical problems (he never sought any advice from me) that made our encounters more frequent.
He was probably the last true philosopher we had. His thesis in UK was accepted without a hitch, in early sixties, not in any way slanted to Buddhism.
I was lucky to have receive a free copy of his last book, related to language games in philosophy.
It was very heavy stuff in content and English terms, which I had to refer the dictionary to grasp his thoughts.
That was the only book in my life I read one chapter at a time (several times) and never proceeded to next chapter without getting hold of his dialectical and eclectically themes.
Listening to him over six to ten close door sessions made me well prepared.
One of his attempts was to get us out of the rigid often prejudiced views. He said philosophers are also trapped in this same dilemma.
He encouraged us to think “out of the box” and showed us the way out of a dogma.
I am very thankful to him and he is no more.
He sucumbed to a medical misadventure just like Monte Gopallawa, his only and the last student (he died before him).

Coming back to "Looking for absolute truth", I organized symposium and invited him for short introduction to philosophy in Sinhala.
I of course dished out the science theme and after a few introductory remarks made into "a question and short answers".
That was the last time I addressed a public lecture 15 years ago.
I try my level best to avoid any.
Simply because the general public want to be inside the box.
Getting them out is difficult philosophically.

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