Karl Pohrt posts on his blog, thereisnogap.com, an interview with Donald Lopez, Jr., that will appear in issue #48 of The Crazy Wisdom Community Journal (May through August 2011). The main topic is Lopez’s news book, The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography, recently published by Princeton University Press. In the course of the interview, Pohrt asks:
Karl Pohrt: From our vantage point, it is easy to dismiss Evans-Wentz, who was born in Trenton, New Jersey and never learned the Tibetan language, or Lama Govinda, who was born Ernst Hoffman in Germany, or Madame Blavatsky, a Russian medium who started the Theosophical Society as—at best—romantic amateurs who misrepresented and twisted Hinduism and Buddhism to fit their own agendas. But is this too harsh a judgment? Maybe the window through which we observe others is always cloudy. Evans-Wentz, Govinda, and Blavatsky were also early western pioneers in the encounter with Asian religious traditions.
Donald Lopez: I agree entirely. I’ve often tried to talk about the importance, especially, of Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society. In the late 1800s India and Asia were being overrun by Christian missionaries who were telling the Buddhists that their religion was idolatry and superstition. Madame Blavatsky, a Russian medium, and her friend Colonel Olcott, an American Civil War veteran, sailed to Sri Lanka to defend the Buddhists against the British and they went to India to defend the Hindus against the British. There’s something quite heroic about them. They believed that there is a single mystical tradition from which all religions spring, an idea that continues to this day. And so the fact that they were trying to see Hinduism and Buddhism through that lens is not surprising in the least.
The rest of the interview can be read here.