Olcott and his resolve to preserve Buddhist Schools in Sri Lanka ( 1894)
Posted on August 30th, 2012

Olcott, Henry Steel <1832-1907>: Old diary leaves : the history of the Theosophical Society

1892

 

“Among Ceylon Buddhists the burning question at that time was the necessity for adopting measures for defeating a bold stroke of legislation in the missionary interest, which forbade the giving of grants-in-aid to any school that might be opened within a quarter of a mile of any existing registered school. On the face of it this seemed innocent enough, as the prohibition would work to the advantage of any Buddhist school that might first occupy a desirable village. But, in point of fact, while the Buddhists were somnolently indifferent to the education of their children, the missionaries quietly pre-empted all the most desirable localities at the chief centres of population; so that the Buddhists would””‚if this iniquitous Act were passed “”‚be compelled to choose between sending their children to Christian schools, or opening and supporting their own schools without a penny of Government aid. Considering that the greater part of the Government revenue in Ceylon is derived from taxation of Buddhists, the injustice of the proposed Buddhist Boycotting Bill is evident. This was the more apparent since at that time there were only twenty-five Buddhist schools registered, as against above a thousand of other denominations. Of course the missionaries, having command of capital, and also having the foresight given by experience, profited to the fullest extent by the apathy of the Buddhists. The latter did not suspect the nature and extent of the plot until they were rudely shaken out of their sloth by my public appeals and denunciations. Things have mended a good deal since that time, and our 25 schools have increased to more than 200; but we still have great difficulties to overcome, among them the chief being the lack of working capital. As things go now, any sum required for emergent work has to be collected by subscription, and, naturally enough, these constant demands are somewhat onerous. Yet, all the same, the Sinhalese people have shown a most commendable generosity and unflagging interest in the progress of our revival movement.”

[Olcott, Henry Steel <1832-1907>: Old diary leaves : the history of the Theosophical Society. — Fourth series, 1887 – 92. — 1910. — S.  467f.]

 

Adyar, Madras
27 September 1894

My dear Madam

My Theosophical history is so nearly identical with that of the Theosophical Society, that I hardly know how to separate the two. From early manhood””‚say from the year 1852″”‚I had felt an absorbing interest in the study of Practical Psychology as the master, if not the sole, Key to the mysteries of Man. I had devoted much time and my best thought to experimentation as well as to reading the best authors on the subject. I had developed clairvoyance in my first Mesmeric subject and cured my second of an inflammatory rheumatism at a single sitting. For twenty-two years, then, before meeting Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, I had been travelling the path now called Theosophical. My meeting with her, however, converted hypothesis into certainty as to the nature of ‘Soul’ and ‘Spirit,’ and that of the Elemental and other “viewless races of the air” and other kingdoms, and their relationship to humanity. First by her testimony, and next through her instrumentality, I came to know of the existence of ‘Mahatmas,’ the nature of their exalted ‘powers,’ and the system of training by which they may be evolved. Believing that the spread of such knowledge by, among other things, the vulgarisation of the contents of Oriental Literature, would be of infinite service to this generation of irreligious, or half religious, or atheistical people, and in this epoch of decaying faiths and warring moribund sects, I took advantage of a private gathering of friends at Mme. Blavatsky’s rooms in the year 1875, at New York, to propose the formation of a society for carrying on this work. This organisation was decided upon, and became the Theosophical Society in due course. You ask me what work I have been engaged in. I reply that I have given my whole time during the past nineteen years to begetting, nourishing, directing and expanding the Society, until its Branches cover almost the whole Earth and its objects and ideals have been made known to nearly all nations. The strength of the Society has been derived from the Masters of Compassion, who stand behind us, its stupendous growth is due to the willing cooperation of many unselfish workers in many lands.

H. S. Olcott, P.T.S.”

[Zitiert in: Murphet, Howard: Yankee beacon of Buddhist light : life of Col. Henry S. Olcott : formerly published as Hammer on the mountain. — 1st Quest ed. — Wheaton, Ill. : Theosophical Pub. House, 1988. — ISBN 0-8356-0638-4. — S. 337-339]

1894-11-11

Olcott verhandelt in London mit R. H. Mead vom Colonial Office wegen der Beschwerden der Buddhisten Ceylons ƒÆ’†’¼ber das Schulgesetz:

“On the afternoon of the 11 th I called by appointment on Sir R. H. Mead at the Colonial Office, to discuss the obnoxious ” Quarter-Mile Clause ” in the Ceylon Education Bill. This, as my readers may know, was an ingenious trick of the Missionary party to prevent Buddhist villagers from opening schools within a quarter of a mile of any existing Christian school: as all the best sites had been occupied by them already it amounted to an exclusion of the Buddhists from their own villages for school purposes, and left them the option of erecting their buildings away from a convenient centre or of sending their children to schools where they would be taught that their religion was idolatrous paganism, infinitely inferior to Christianity. Sir Richard Mead and I were old acquaintances, my first interviews with him dating back to 1884 when I was settling the difficulties of the Sinhalese Buddhists with Lord Derby and the Colonial Office. A more genial and fair-minded official than Sir Richard it would be hard to find.”

[Olcott, Henry Steel <1832-1907>: Old diary leaves : the history of the Theosophical Society. — Fifth series, 1893 – April, 1896. — 1932. — S. 219]

“My conference with Sir Richard Mead at the Colonial Office and my presentation of the Protest and Appeal of the Sinhalese Buddhists and of the Convention of School Managers (held at Colombo, June 16, 1894), who had appointed me their special delegate to bring the matter of their” grievances before Government, resulted in my receiving from the Marquess of Ripon, K. G., then Secretary of State for the Colonies, a letter of a very encouraging character and, in fact, the matter was satisfactorily settled and was reported to me at the T. S. Convention of 1894 by Mr. A. E. Buultjens, then General Manager of Buddhist Schools under “¢my supervision. The question was of too much importance to be passed over in this narrative with the brief mention made of it last month. It was a covert blow at the whole Buddhist educational movement, which would have been fatal but for the vigilance and courage of Mr. Buultjens and our Buddhist committee, and. the benevolent sympathy shown by Lord Ripon, though himself a Roman Catholic in faith. It was the twelfth clause of the Education Code of the Department of Public Instruction, amended in 1892 and the two successive years in such a way as to prejudicially affect the registration of Buddhist schools to a very serious extent. The text of the clause in question, with the amendments introduced for the first time in 1893, printed in italics, is as follows:

” Excepting in towns with special claims, no application will, as a general rule, be entertained for aid to a new school when there already exists a school of the same class within two miles of the new school, without some intervening obstacle, unless the average daily attendance in the new school for one year prior to the date of application for aid exceed 60 in a boys’ and 40 in a girls’ school. ‘ But in any case, however large the attendance, no new school will be aided within a quarter of a mile of an existing school of the same class, excepting in towns with special claims as aforesaid.”

I feel it necessary to dwell at some length upon this question because it shows what serious obstacles have had to be surmounted by the Sinhalese Buddhists, in their fight against their ill-wishers, to secure the right to educate their children without sending them to schools organised by the enemies of their religion with the avowed object of drawing them away from their ancestral faith. The Sinhalese are not so intellectual as the Hindus, but I maintain that they deserve the greatest credit for the persistence with which they have, since 1880, kept active the educational movement which I helped them to start at that time. Mr. Buultjens, in the temperate appeal which he made to Lord Ripon for justice, and which it was my privilege to present to the Colonial Secretary, explains the working of the Twelfth Clause as follows:

” Immediately after the publication of the Draft of the Code for 1893, a petition signed by over 2,000 leading Bhikkhus and laymen praying for the rescission of this quarter-mile Clause, otherwise known as the Buddhist Boycotting Bill, and for the adoption of the principle of Local Option was presented to the Legislative Council in November, 1892, and the Hon. the Colonial Secretary then promised to give it his consideration. But as your Lordship may see from the correspondence annexed, no redress of the grievance was granted. On the contrary the Hon. the Colonial Secretary (in No. 4) refers to paragraph 11 of the Code, which does not affect the question at issue, since as a matter of fact schools are annually opened and registered as grant-in-aid schools. Thus according to the ‘ Administration Report of. Public Instruction,’ the increase of newly registered schools was from 971 in 1891 to 1,024 in 1892; so that paragraph 11 did not apply to the 51 new schools registered in that one year. In the third paragraph of the letter No. 4, the Hon. the Colonial Secretary practically asks the Buddhists to open schools away from the Centres of population, leaving them the alternative either to educate their children under hostile religious influences or to keep them illiterate . . .

” When every effort failed to prevent the rescission of the new rule from the Code, and the clause became law, the Director of Public Instruction was requested by letter at least to save from the operation of the clause four schools which had been opened before the clause came into operation in 1892. But even in this, justice has been denied, and the villagers were compelled by the Director to pull down the buildings of three schools and to erect them away from their old site. The total cost for the erection of the three new schools was Rs. 1,000, and the Director has not even offered compensation for the injury done, but the expense has been entirely borne by villagers. Only after the buildings had been pulled down were two of the schools registered, that is to say the Director of Public Instruction compelled the removal of the school from the village Nugegoda to the village Kirillapone, and the removal of the school from the village Karagampitiya to the village Nedimala. It is needless to point out to your Lordship that a Government official could hardly have selected a better method than this of practically bringing before the villagers an object-lesson of the character of the British Government for justice and religious neutrality.

” The effect of the operation of the quarter-mile clause is by no means over, and your Lordship’s special attention is directed to the cases of the Weragampita and the Kurunegalla schools which, though opened prior to 1892, up to date remain unregistered. The entire Buddhist community is roused by a sense of the injustice done to these two schools, and your Lordship’s kind interference is prayed on behalf of this question, for we fear that the Director may be influenced still more by the powerful missionary bodies to introduce fresh clauses into the Code calculated to hinder the people of the land from the registration of their schools.”

In a letter to the Director of Public Instruction, Ceylon, dated September 19th, 1892, Mr. Buultjens says:

“2. The Buddhist public are grateful for the principle of absolute religious toleration publicly proclaimed by the Government, and relying on that pledge they have of late years opened a large number of schools in several provinces, and completed the erection of buildings before the new clause came into operation.

” 3. In many localities””‚especially towns””‚where all the other denominations have hitherto opened schools it is virtually impossible to establish a new school in any desirable place without infringing the new clause.

” 4. To open schools far away from the centres of population would be courting failure, whilst leaving the other sects in pre-emptive possession of the best sites.

” 5. The Buddhist schools are essentially the life of the Buddhist nation, and experience has proved that on the whole the Buddhists are reluctant to send their children to the schools of the other denominations, owing to the difference of doctrines taught in them.

” 6. The greater portion of the revenue is obtained from the taxes paid by the Buddhists, and it seems unfair that money so raised be expended on more than 1,000 schools of other denominations, whereas less than 30 Buddhist schools have hitherto been registered; even granting that this is largely due to their own ignorant neglect of Departmental rules.

” 7. The Buddhists do not attempt proselytism, but claim the right to open schools wherever they can secure a sufficiently large attendance of children of their own faith, and they do not ask for any privilege to open schools in villages where those of another faith predominate … I beg also to submit that the principle of Local Option would be very readily accepted by the Buddhists as a clause in the Education system.”

Every intelligent Western reader will see what a cunning and, at the same time, illegal scheme it was to make the new clause retroactive, so as to not only bar the way against the opening of new Buddhist schools in villages already pre-empted by the Christian Missionaries, but also to compel the Buddhists to tear down and move away schools actually established before the Act went into effect. However, with the progress of time, matters have been mended, a rather more tolerant spirit is being shown and, very recently, Mr. D. B. Jayatilaka, our present General Manager of Buddhist schools, was appointed a member of the Government Board of Education. According to his last Annual Report to myself there were 132 registered schools and 26 applications for registration were pending; the grants earned during the year footed up to Rs. 31,390-0-7: at the same time the expenditure was Rs. 42,509-1-7. This deficit is the burden which presses upon our self-sacrificing Buddhist colleagues: how great it is can only be appreciated by those who are acquainted with the average poverty of the Sinhalese people.

My time was partly occupied during the next few days with the preparation of photographs from the mementos of H. P. B.’s early New York phenomena which were to be engraved for my OLD DIARY LEAVES. On the 20th of August Lord Ripon wrote me to call on him on the following Thursday afternoon, and at the appointed time received me very kindly at the Colonial Office; he hoped that the good Sinhalese, for whom he expressed a kindly feeling, and whose efforts to promote the education of their children he thought very praiseworthy, might get out of their difficulties. I asked him if he had any message to send to the people of India, among whom his memory was so affectionately preserved. He said: “Yes. Tell them that I shall never forget them nor lose my interest in all that concerns their welfare. I have the happiest recollections of my stay in that country.” On the same evening I presided at a meeting of the Blavatsky Lodge and bade the members farewell. On the following morning I went to Albert Docks, and embarked on the P. & O. mail steamer ” Peninsular “: many friends saw me off.”

[Olcott, Henry Steel <1832-1907>: Old diary leaves : the history of the Theosophical Society

 

“On the afternoon of the 11 th I called by appointment on Sir R. H. Mead at the Colonial Office, to discuss the obnoxious ” Quarter-Mile Clause ” in the Ceylon Education Bill. This, as my readers may know, was an ingenious trick of the Missionary party to prevent Buddhist villagers from opening schools within a quarter of a mile of any existing Christian school: as all the best sites had been occupied by them already it amounted to an exclusion of the Buddhists from their own villages for school purposes, and left them the option of erecting their buildings away from a convenient centre or of sending their children to schools where they would be taught that their religion was idolatrous paganism, infinitely inferior to Christianity. Sir Richard Mead and I were old acquaintances, my first interviews with him dating back to 1884 when I was settling the difficulties of the Sinhalese Buddhists with Lord Derby and the Colonial Office. A more genial and fair-minded official than Sir Richard it would be hard to find.”

[Olcott, Henry Steel <1832-1907>: Old diary leaves : the history of the Theosophical Society. — Fifth series, 1893 – April, 1896. — 1932. — S.  219]

“My conference with Sir Richard Mead at the Colonial Office and my presentation of the Protest and Appeal of the Sinhalese Buddhists and of the Convention of School Managers (held at Colombo, June 16, 1894), who had appointed me their special delegate to bring the matter of their” grievances before Government, resulted in my receiving from the Marquess of Ripon, K. G., then Secretary of State for the Colonies, a letter of a very encouraging character and, in fact, the matter was satisfactorily settled and was reported to me at the T. S. Convention of 1894 by Mr. A. E. Buultjens, then General Manager of Buddhist Schools under “¢my supervision. The question was of too much importance to be passed over in this narrative with the brief mention made of it last month. It was a covert blow at the whole Buddhist educational movement, which would have been fatal but for the vigilance and courage of Mr. Buultjens and our Buddhist committee, and. the benevolent sympathy shown by Lord Ripon, though himself a Roman Catholic in faith. It was the twelfth clause of the Education Code of the Department of Public Instruction, amended in 1892 and the two successive years in such a way as to prejudicially affect the registration of Buddhist schools to a very serious extent. The text of the clause in question, with the amendments introduced for the first time in 1893, printed in italics, is as follows:

” Excepting in towns with special claims, no application will, as a general rule, be entertained for aid to a new school when there already exists a school of the same class within two miles of the new school, without some intervening obstacle, unless the average daily attendance in the new school for one year prior to the date of application for aid exceed 60 in a boys’ and 40 in a girls’ school. ‘ But in any case, however large the attendance, no new school will be aided within a quarter of a mile of an existing school of the same class, excepting in towns with special claims as aforesaid.”

I feel it necessary to dwell at some length upon this question because it shows what serious obstacles have had to be surmounted by the Sinhalese Buddhists, in their fight against their ill-wishers, to secure the right to educate their children without sending them to schools organised by the enemies of their religion with the avowed object of drawing them away from their ancestral faith. The Sinhalese are not so intellectual as the Hindus, but I maintain that they deserve the greatest credit for the persistence with which they have, since 1880, kept active the educational movement which I helped them to start at that time. Mr. Buultjens, in the temperate appeal which he made to Lord Ripon for justice, and which it was my privilege to present to the Colonial Secretary, explains the working of the Twelfth Clause as follows:

” Immediately after the publication of the Draft of the Code for 1893, a petition signed by over 2,000 leading Bhikkhus and laymen praying for the rescission of this quarter-mile Clause, otherwise known as the Buddhist Boycotting Bill, and for the adoption of the principle of Local Option was presented to the Legislative Council in November, 1892, and the Hon. the Colonial Secretary then promised to give it his consideration. But as your Lordship may see from the correspondence annexed, no redress of the grievance was granted. On the contrary the Hon. the Colonial Secretary (in No. 4) refers to paragraph 11 of the Code, which does not affect the question at issue, since as a matter of fact schools are annually opened and registered as grant-in-aid schools. Thus according to the ‘ Administration Report of. Public Instruction,’ the increase of newly registered schools was from 971 in 1891 to 1,024 in 1892; so that paragraph 11 did not apply to the 51 new schools registered in that one year. In the third paragraph of the letter No. 4, the Hon. the Colonial Secretary practically asks the Buddhists to open schools away from the Centres of population, leaving them the alternative either to educate their children under hostile religious influences or to keep them illiterate . . .

” When every effort failed to prevent the rescission of the new rule from the Code, and the clause became law, the Director of Public Instruction was requested by letter at least to save from the operation of the clause four schools which had been opened before the clause came into operation in 1892. But even in this, justice has been denied, and the villagers were compelled by the Director to pull down the buildings of three schools and to erect them away from their old site. The total cost for the erection of the three new schools was Rs. 1,000, and the Director has not even offered compensation for the injury done, but the expense has been entirely borne by villagers. Only after the buildings had been pulled down were two of the schools registered, that is to say the Director of Public Instruction compelled the removal of the school from the village Nugegoda to the village Kirillapone, and the removal of the school from the village Karagampitiya to the village Nedimala. It is needless to point out to your Lordship that a Government official could hardly have selected a better method than this of practically bringing before the villagers an object-lesson of the character of the British Government for justice and religious neutrality.

” The effect of the operation of the quarter-mile clause is by no means over, and your Lordship’s special attention is directed to the cases of the Weragampita and the Kurunegalla schools which, though opened prior to 1892, up to date remain unregistered. The entire Buddhist community is roused by a sense of the injustice done to these two schools, and your Lordship’s kind interference is prayed on behalf of this question, for we fear that the Director may be influenced still more by the powerful missionary bodies to introduce fresh clauses into the Code calculated to hinder the people of the land from the registration of their schools.”

In a letter to the Director of Public Instruction, Ceylon, dated September 19th, 1892, Mr. Buultjens says:

“2. The Buddhist public are grateful for the principle of absolute religious toleration publicly proclaimed by the Government, and relying on that pledge they have of late years opened a large number of schools in several provinces, and completed the erection of buildings before the new clause came into operation.

” 3. In many localities””‚especially towns””‚where all the other denominations have hitherto opened schools it is virtually impossible to establish a new school in any desirable place without infringing the new clause.

” 4. To open schools far away from the centres of population would be courting failure, whilst leaving the other sects in pre-emptive possession of the best sites.

” 5. The Buddhist schools are essentially the life of the Buddhist nation, and experience has proved that on the whole the Buddhists are reluctant to send their children to the schools of the other denominations, owing to the difference of doctrines taught in them.

” 6. The greater portion of the revenue is obtained from the taxes paid by the Buddhists, and it seems unfair that money so raised be expended on more than 1,000 schools of other denominations, whereas less than 30 Buddhist schools have hitherto been registered; even granting that this is largely due to their own ignorant neglect of Departmental rules.

” 7. The Buddhists do not attempt proselytism, but claim the right to open schools wherever they can secure a sufficiently large attendance of children of their own faith, and they do not ask for any privilege to open schools in villages where those of another faith predominate … I beg also to submit that the principle of Local Option would be very readily accepted by the Buddhists as a clause in the Education system.”

Every intelligent Western reader will see what a cunning and, at the same time, illegal scheme it was to make the new clause retroactive, so as to not only bar the way against the opening of new Buddhist schools in villages already pre-empted by the Christian Missionaries, but also to compel the Buddhists to tear down and move away schools actually established before the Act went into effect. However, with the progress of time, matters have been mended, a rather more tolerant spirit is being shown and, very recently, Mr. D. B. Jayatilaka, our present General Manager of Buddhist schools, was appointed a member of the Government Board of Education. According to his last Annual Report to myself there were 132 registered schools and 26 applications for registration were pending; the grants earned during the year footed up to Rs. 31,390-0-7: at the same time the expenditure was Rs. 42,509-1-7. This deficit is the burden which presses upon our self-sacrificing Buddhist colleagues: how great it is can only be appreciated by those who are acquainted with the average poverty of the Sinhalese people.

My time was partly occupied during the next few days with the preparation of photographs from the mementos of H. P. B.’s early New York phenomena which were to be engraved for my OLD DIARY LEAVES. On the 20th of August Lord Ripon wrote me to call on him on the following Thursday afternoon, and at the appointed time received me very kindly at the Colonial Office; he hoped that the good Sinhalese, for whom he expressed a kindly feeling, and whose efforts to promote the education of their children he thought very praiseworthy, might get out of their difficulties. I asked him if he had any message to send to the people of India, among whom his memory was so affectionately preserved. He said: “Yes. Tell them that I shall never forget them nor lose my interest in all that concerns their welfare. I have the happiest recollections of my stay in that country.” On the same evening I presided at a meeting of the Blavatsky Lodge and bade the members farewell. On the following morning I went to Albert Docks, and embarked on the P. & O. mail steamer ” Peninsular “: many friends saw me off.”

[Olcott, Henry Steel <1832-1907>: Old diary leaves : the history of the Theosophical Society

5 Responses to “Olcott and his resolve to preserve Buddhist Schools in Sri Lanka ( 1894)”

  1. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    Just a note – The first Buddhist School established in Sri Lanka by Olcott was Piyaratane Vidyalaya at Dodanduwa(contrary to popular belief), where my father and his good old mate Ven. Mahinda of Tibet had their education. Olcott was also one of the fathers of Confederation of America, probably few know this.

  2. Dilrook Says:

    Sunil:

    Olcott was born in the 1830s and could not have been a forefather of the Confederation of America (1776). Although there is a person by the name Wolcott who died in 1797 not connected to Olcott.

    Appreciate if you can further enlighten us on that.

  3. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    Dilrook – you may be quite right but I just read it somewhere and didn’t go to analyse as you have done – you know I am not a scholar or an avid reader(stopped reading since I began studying Buddhism, especially the western crap) – just an ordinary person who write things which I have read about. Maybe the person who wrote wasn’t thinking like me when he did. I apologise for this blatant error.

  4. Dilrook Says:

    Sunil, you don’t have to apologise. We all learn from one another. Thanks for the clarification.

  5. Naram Says:

    I have read in an article in London paper – Lanka Vitti, that even in 1911, at Mahinda College, Gallewhere the great educationist and Pali scholar Woodward was the Principal, parents voted by a large majority, not to devote school time to study Sinhala. Understandably the leadership and the pliant lower orders was only trying to get concessions, employment from the imperial forces for which tColonel Olcott with his training in Law and credentials of anti slavery struggles proved to be the ideal man.

    Political education in the real sense probably started with political parties and trade unions in the late twenties, early thirties with LSSP, Suriya Mal movement etc.

    I have heard that Colonel Olcot was more a Theosophist than a Buddhist. Apparently he and other Theosophists did not like the large expenditures committed by Anagarika Dharmapala to win the Buddha Gaya for Buddhists, setting up Technical schools in India, BUddhist Temple in London etc. with funds from generous overseas donrs like Mrs Jenner of Honolulu.

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