Sunday, November 10, 2013

Blavatsky and Buddhism in England

Mme. Blavatsky is mentioned in passing as an influence behind the reintroduction of Buddhism in Britain in the 1920s in Alison Falby’s “Buddhist Psychologies and Masculinity in Early Twentieth Century Britain.” Falby’s contribution is the opening chapter in Men, Masculinities and Religious Change in Twentieth-Century Britain edited by Lucy Delap and Sue Morgan and recently published Palgrave Macmillan (352 pages, hardcover, $92.00). The piece focuses on the interaction between two newly founded Buddhist groups in London in the 1920s and the competition and collaboration that emerged. Col. Olcott’s contribution to the Buddhist revival in Sri Lanka, as defined by Stephen Prothero, is referenced as a prelude to introducing his protégé Dharmapala.

Attempts had been made to form organisations for the promulgation of Buddhism in England but none had had a lasting effect until Christmas Humphreys helped form the Buddhist Lodge of the Theosophical Lodge in 1924 in London. Dharmapala’s Mahabodhi Society also established itself in London at that time and became a major contender of the Buddhist Lodge for Buddhist legitimacy. A letter published in the Mahabodhi Society’s journal, The British Buddhist, from 1927 is typical of the group’s response: “To certain members of the Buddhist Lodge it seems that Madame Blavatsky is greater than the Buddha.” Falby writes, “In claiming the legitimacy of their own knowledge [Buddhist] Lodge members indicated that they did not need bhikkhus.” 

DT Suzuki, Christmas Humphreys and Edward Conze
The Buddhist Lodge soon shed its Theosophical ties and continues as The Buddhist Society, headquartered since 1956 at 58 Eccleston Square in London. Christmas Humphreys was President of the Society he founded until his death in April 1983. Humphreys, a distinguished lawyer who was to become a High Court Judge, remained an ardent admirer of Blavatsky, including references to her and her writings in his popular 1951 paperback, Buddhism  (published by Penguin Books), which helped introduce the subject to the masses. He helped prepare the third edition The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, the famous collection of letters from Blavatsky’s teachers to A.P. Sinnett.

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