From A Modern Panarion
Articles by HPB
[From the New York World, April 6th, 1877.]
THERE was a time when the geocentric theory was universally accepted by Christian nations, and if you and I had then been carrying on our little philological and psychological controversy, I should have bowed in humility to the dictum of an authority so particularly at home in "the Mysticism of the Orient." But despite all modifications of our astronomical system, I am no heliolater, though I do subscribe for The Sun as well as The World. I feel no more bound to "cajole" or conciliate the one than to suffer my feeble taper to be extinguished by the draught made by the other in its diurnal rush through journalistic space.
As near as I can judge from your writing there is this difference between us, that I write from personal experience, and you upon information and belief. My authorities are my eyes and ears; yours, obsolete works of reference and the pernicious advice of a spontaneously generated Lampsakano, who learned his Mysticism from the detached head of one Dummkopf. (See The Sun of March 25th.) My assertions may be corroborated by any traveller, as they have been by the first authorities. Elphinstone's Kingdom of Kabul was published sixty-two years ago (1815), his History of India thirty-six years ago. If the latter is the "standard text-book" for British civil servants, it certainly is not so for native Hindûs, who perhaps know as much of their Philosophy and Religion as he. In fact, a pretty wide reading of European "authorities" has given me a very poor opinion of them, since no two agree. Sir William Jones himself, whose shoe-strings few Orientalists are worthy to untie, made very grave mistakes, which are now being corrected by Max Müller and others. He knew nothing of the Vedas (see Max Müller's Chips, vol. i. p. 183), and even expressed his belief that Buddha was the same as the Teutonic deity Woden or Odin, and Shâkya—another name of Buddha—the same as Shishak, a king of Egypt! Why, therefore, could not Elphinstone make a mess of such subtle religious distinctions as the innumerable sects of Hindû Mystics existing at present?
I am charged with such ignorance that I imagine the Fakirs to be "holy mendicants of the religion of Brahma," while you say they are not of the religion of Brahma at all, but Mohammedans.
Does this precious piece of information also come from Elphinstone? Then I give you a Roland for your Oliver. I refer you to James Mill's History of British India, vol. i. p. 283 (London: 1858). You say:
Those seeking ready-made information can find our statements corroborated in any encyclopædia.
Perhaps you refer to Appleton's? Very well. In the article on James Mill (vol. ii. p. 501), you will find it saying that his India
Was the first complete work on the subject. It has without a rival as a source of information, and the justice of its views appeared in the subsequent measures for the government of that country.
Now, Mill says that the
Fakirs are a sect of Brâhmanism; and that their penances are prescribed by the Laws of Manu.
Will your Lamp-sickener, or whatever the English of that Greek may be, say that Manu was a Mohammedan? And yet this would be no worse than your clothing the Fakirs, who belong, as a rule, to the Brahman pagodas, in yellow—the colour exclusively worn by Buddhist lamas—and breeches—which form part of the costume of the Mohammedan dervishes. Perhaps it is a natural mistake for your Lampsakanoi, who rely upon Elphinstone for their facts and have not visited India, to confound the Persian dervishes with the Hindu Fakirs. But "while the lamp holds out to burn" read Louis Jacolliot's Bible in India, just out, and learn from a man who has passed twenty years in India, that your correspondent is neither a fool nor a liar.
You charge me with saying that a Fakir is a "worshipper of God." I say I did not, as the expression I used, "Fakir is a loose word," well proves. It was a natural mistake of the reporter, who did not employ stenography at our interview. I said, "A Svamî is one who devotes himself entirely to the service of God."
All Svamîs of the Nir-Narrain sects are Fakirs, but all Fakirs are not necessarily Svamis. I refer you to Coleman's Mythology of the Hindûs (p. 244), and to The Asiatic Journal. Coleman says precisely what Louis Jacolliot says, and both corroborate me. You very obligingly give me a lesson in Hindûstânî and Devanâgarî, and teach me the etymology of "Guru," "Fakir," "Gossain," etc. For answer I refer you to John Shakespear's large Hindûstânî-English Dictionary. I may know less English than your Lampsakanoi, but I do know of Hindûstânî and Sanskrit more than can be learned on Park Row.
As I have said in another communication, I did not invite the visits of reporters, nor seek the notoriety which has suddenly been thrust upon me. If I reply to your criticisms—rhetorically brilliant, but wholly unwarranted by the facts—it is because I value your good opinion (without caring to cajole you), and at the same time cannot sit quiet and be made to appear alike devoid of experience, knowledge and truthfulness.
Respectfully, but still rebelliously, yours,