Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Max Müller and HPB

Mention was made of Dr. Cornelia Haas’s paper “Madame Blavatsky, Max Müller und die göttliche Weisheit des alten Indien” (Madame Blavatsky, Max Müller, and the divine wisdom of ancient India). It was originally presented at a Conference at the University of Jena, Germany, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Friedrich Schlegel’s On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians. Dr. Haas has provided us with an abstract of it:

Nineteenth century Orientalists generally had a very difficult relation with HPB. She was, in her own way, something like an Orientalist herself and had done a lot for the publication of Indian texts, and, in that way, for the growing self-consciousness of India under the British Raj. One of her critics was the great Indologist Max Müller, whose name is still famous in India today (the German "Goethe-Institutes" in India are called "Max Müller Bhavan"). He edited the Rigveda, and he was very sure that nothing like "Esoteric Buddhism," as HPB and Olcott called it, existed, and that all that HPB ever wrote on India was plagiarized. But in his Gifford Lectures series—published as a book called "Theosophy or psychological Religion"—he describes Indian religions as "theosophical" in the sense that their basic idea is one of unity of man and cosmos. According to him, this idea also can be found in early Christianity and in other (mystic) traditions. But Theosophy in connection with HPB and the TS was something very suspect for him, since HPB's knowledge came "from the Masters," which can't be accepted by an "orderly scholar." So he, though fascinated by the same things as HPB, refused to get connected in any way with "her" theosophy. Other points are their concurrence regarding the merits of India, and, sometimes even the question, who's knowledge of Sanskrit is worse, in spite of the fact that the scholars themselves were (and are) fighting about so many words and interpretations. Ironically, today the audience for the Adyar manuscript library at the Theosophical Society in Madras is usually Indologists from everywhere, whereas the "educated bourgeoisie" likes the cultural program of "Max Müller Bhavan" much more.

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