February 2009 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the February 2009 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
H. S. Olcott — A Miracle
[While on a visit to England during the spring and summer of 1884, Col. Olcott was interviewed by London’s Pall Mall Gazette. The result, “A Miracle Worker of Today,” was printed in its issue of April 21, 1884. Appearing so soon after the Colonel ceased his healing work, it provides a revealing account of his beliefs at the time.]
Colonel Olcott, president of the Theosophical Society, is at present in London on a mission from the Sinhalese Buddhists, who have considerable reason to complain of the manner in which they have been denied justice in their disputes with the local Roman Catholics. With that aspect of Colonel Olcott’s mission, however, we do not propose to deal today. Suffice it to say, that Colonel Olcott and the petitioning Buddhists ask for nothing that should not be conceded as a matter of simple right to any body of religionists in any part of her Majesty’s dominions. Much more interesting than the champion of the aggrieved Buddhists of Ceylon is Colonel Olcott as the Apostle Paul of theosophy, an archaic philosophy which, taking its rise in the remote regions of Thibet, is destined, in the fervent faith of its disciples, to spread over the whole earth. Colonel Olcott’s account of his conversion affords a key to the whole of his present mission. The Colonel - a New Yorker, a prosperous lawyer, well-to-do in this world’s goods, and with a prospect, almost amounting to a certainty, of being appointed State Director of Insurance of New York, with an honourable record of gallant services performed in the American Civil War - was much attracted by the study of Eastern philosophy.
The reason why Colonel Olcott abandoned his professional career in the United States was as follows: One night he had been meditating deeply and long upon the strange problems of Oriental philosophy. He had wondered whether the mysterious teachings of Mdme. Blavatsky were after all nothing more than the illusions of an overwrought brain, or whether they had really been revealed to her by those weird Mahatmas - a race of devotees dwelling in the remote fastnesses of the Thibetan Himalayas, who are said to have preserved intact for the benefit of mankind the invaluable deposits of archaic spiritual truth to be revealed in “the fullness of the times.” His judgment inclined towards the latter alternative. But if theosophy as expounded by its latest hierophant were true, then was it not his duty to forsake all that he had, and leaving behind him the busy Western world, with its distracting influences which indisposed the mind to the perception of pure spiritual truth, hasten to the East, the chosen home of repose and speculative calm? Yet should a step so momentous be taken without ample confirmation; nay, without absolute certainty of the truth for which he was expected to sacrifice all? Could such absolute certainty be vouchsafed to mortal man? Colonel Olcott pondered long, revolving these and similar questions, when suddenly he became aware of the presence of a mysterious visitant in the room. The door was closed, the window was shut, no mortal footstep had been heard on the stair; yet there, clearly visible in the lamplight, stood the palpable form of a venerable Oriental. In a moment Colonel Olcott knew that his unspoken prayer had been answered.
He was face to face with one of the mysterious brotherhood of the Thibetan mountains, a Mahatma who from his distant ashrum had noted the mute entreaty of his soul, and hastened across ocean and continent to remove his lurking doubts. The Mahatma entered into friendly conversation with his American disciple, and in the course of half an hour succeeded in convincing him beyond the possibility of doubt that Mdme. Blavatsky’s testimonies concerning the existence of the Mahatmas and the mission which invited him were simple transcripts of the literal truth. Ere the sudden visit was over, Colonel Olcott was a fast adherent of the new philosophy so strangely confirmed. But when the Mahatma rose to go, the natural man reasserted itself. “Would you not,” he asked, “before you go, leave me some tangible token of your presence, some proof that this has been no maya - the illusion of overstrained sense? Give me something to keep that I may touch and handle.” The Mahatma smiled a kindly smile; then removing his turban he wrought upon it a marvelous transformation. Colonel Olcott saw the shadowy folds of the Eastern headgear thicken and materialize under the fingers of his guest, until at last the shadow became substance, and a substantial turban rested on the head of the spectre. The Mahatma then handed the turban to the astonished Colonel, and vanished as mysteriously as he had appeared. That turban Colonel Olcott carries about with him to this day, he has it at the present moment, and it can be seen by the unbelieving, “the outward and visible sign” of the mysterious visit that completed his conversion. With that turban in his hand Colonel Olcott could doubt no longer. He ultimately threw up all his business engagements, and left New York for Hindostan. There he has remained until recently a weariless apostle of the theosophic faith which has the Mahatmas of the Himalayas as its sage oracles and Mdme. Blavatsky as one of its Delphic priestesses.
Such is the story which is told concerning Olcott’s conversion, and, however strange it may be, it is the only explanation which is as yet forthcoming as to how a shrewd Yankee editor - for Colonel Olcott edited the agricultural department of the New York Tribune, under the late Horace Greeley - has been for the last six years engaged in carrying on an active apostolate in India and Ceylon in favour of the ancient mysterious doctrines which are popularly known as theosophy. Colonel Olcott, who is at present, as we have already stated, in this country on an errand to the Colonial Office, in order to secure protection for the injured Sinhalese Buddhists, is about to undertake a mission through Burmah on the invitation of his Burmese Majesty, with a view to purifying and reviving Buddhism. After this tour through Burmah he proposes to make an itinerary through Siam. Subsequently he may visit China and Thibet. Mr. Sinnett vouches for the fact that Colonel Olcott, in the course of his tours in India and Ceylon, performed more miracles - using that term, of course, in its popular and unscientific sense, for the theosophists stoutly deny that there are such things as miracles contra naturam - than are recorded in the whole of the Gospels. Colonel Olcott himself modestly places the number of his psycopathic treatments at 8,000 in thirteen months. During that period he is said to have performed almost every cure as recorded in Old or New Testament. He has made the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak, the blind to see; the paralysed have been restored to the full use of their limbs, the cripples have walked; and, although he cannot boast of having raised the dead or healed a leper, he asserts that he cured a man suffering from elephantiasis, who was the nearest approach to a leper which he had to do with. Colonel Olcott is rather chary of speaking of these cures, fearing, not unnaturally, that his life may become a burden to him if it is known that a “miracle-worker” of such power is within hailing distance of the innumerable sick and afflicted of London.
During his visit to our office Colonel Olcott obligingly explained to our representative the method of healing which he pursued. Its central principle seemed to be that of establishing a magnetic current between the right and left hands of the operator. Almost all disease, in Colonel Olcott’s opinion, arises from deficient local vitality, and can be removed by influx of fresh life from another person. Of course this in time tells upon the vital force of the healer, and Colonel Olcott himself was at the close of his healing campaign nearly paralyzed, and would, he maintains, have been altogether so but for the timely warning of his watchful Mahatma, who ordered him to desist before the mischief had gone too far. As it was, he had paralysis for some time in the forefinger of his right hand; but he is now perfectly recovered. During his recent stay in Nice, he asserts, he was the means of effecting a very remarkable cure on the person of Princess W., a Russian lady who had been paralysed in her right arm and leg for seventeen years. Colonel Olcott in the course of fifteen minutes was able to restore to her the perfect use of both limbs, on which physicians had so long experimented in vain. Of these gifts, however, Colonel Olcott makes but small account. They are incidental, nor does he think that he is exceptionally gifted in this respect. Similar powers may be exercised by almost any healthy person, provided they go the right way about it. The Colonel was even obliging enough to instruct our representative how to work miracles; but hitherto, whether owing to lack of experience on his part or to the uncompromising nature of the human material on whom he tried his newly acquired art, the experiments so far have not proved successful. Colonel Olcott before he left India enjoyed another remarkable experience in the shape of a visit from another Mahatma. It was at Lahore, when he was in his tent at night, that he was visited by the sage in question in propriâ personâ. He recognized the person in a moment, and they entered at once into a lively conversation, at the close of which the Mahatma said, “You wanted something tangible when first you met your present teacher. You are going to Europe. Here, I will give you something to take to Sinnett as a message from me.” With that the Mahatma encircled the Colonel’s palm with the finger-tips of his right hand, and there gradually grew into substance, precipitated as it were out of thin air, a letter written in English characters, enfolded in Chinese silk, and addressed to Mr. Sinnett. Of the labours of this gentleman on behalf of theosophy in the benighted West, the recluses in the Himalayas are gratefully conscious. Of these and many other wonders too numerous here to tell, as well as the story of the strange propaganda which this American Colonel is successfully carrying on in the remote East, we must say nothing at present. Colonel Olcott himself may take an opportunity during his visit of setting forth the latest light - the light of theosophy - in the midst of modern Babylon. At present it is sufficient to repeat for the benefit of our readers the remarkable story which this American apostle of Eastern occultism is prepared to uphold against all the gibes of the sceptical capital of the Western world.
Sungei Buloh Wetland
Through the kind arrangement of Bro. Tham Pui San, one of our committee members, we are planning a theosophical outing to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, where mangroves and wetland wildlife thrive, which we last visited in 2002.
Sungei Buloh was once covered with mangroves. With development, some of these areas were cleared for prawn and fish farming. It was soon realised that migratory birds used the area as a stop-over site during the migratory season. The wetland sites provide a rich food source for the birds. It was designated a nature reserve by the Ministry of National Development in 1989. This 87-hectare park is made up of mangrove mudflats, brackish water ponds and freshwater ponds. Mangrove trees, a fast-disappearing flora in Singapore, characterise the plant life of the reserve.
The park is an important stopover and refuelling point for migratory birds, some coming from as far as Siberia and China. It is also home to resident herons, kingfishers, doves, bee-eaters, tailorbirds, woodpeckers and munias.
Throughout the year, we could expect to see mangroves, mangrove wildlife like mudskippers, crabs, shellfish, water snakes, birds, spiders, moths, monitor lizards, resident birds like herons, bitterns, sunbirds, coucals, kingfishers and freshwater plants. From September to March each year, we may see migratory birds, in particular, shorebirds (egrets, sandpipers, plovers).
Bro. Tham Pui San who is a Volunteer Guide there has put together an interesting programme for us, including a conducted tour of Mangrove Boardwalk, video show giving an overview at the theatrette and bird watching at Main Hide.
We have scheduled the revisit for Sunday, 8 March 2009. For the convenience of members, we are arranging for transportation from our Lodge to Sungei Buloh and back. It is recommended that we start early in order to catch the best moments at the wetland. The air-conditioned coach will leave Sims Avenue Centre promptly at 7:30 a.m. and we expect to get back at around 2:30 p.m. Members interested in participating please register and pay $10 per person to cover the costs of the coach and lunch. The coach is limited to 40 persons on a first-come-first-served basis. If the coach is full, you would have to make your own way to Sungei Buloh. Those making their own way there need only pay $5 per person.