I want to know everything

Henry Steel Olcott


Although Olcott saw himself as an administrator rather than as a scholar, his Cathechism demonstrates a high level of scholarly achievement. Following the pattern of a Christian catechism in question and answer format, it extracted from the Buddha's teaching a systematic presentation of precepts, using the Four Noble Truths 4 and the Noble Eightfold Path 5 as basic teachings. On the nature of the Buddha, he wrote:

Q. Was the Buddha God? A. No. Buddha Dharma teaches no "divine" incarnation. Q. Was he a man? A. Yes, but the wisest, noblest and most holy being, who had developed himself in the course of countless births far beyond all other beings, the 6

This approach to the Buddha's teaching became the dominant approach, although Olcott almost certainly pioneered its use. The Buddha used many lists, including these but would also sometimes give different answers to the same question, depending upon the questioner's level of spiritual attainment and also in order to avoid dogmatism, since he encouraged his followers to test everything he taught. Missionary literature at the time depicted Buddhism as a pessimistic, negative religion because of its teaching about the non-existence of the 'self'. Other Western writers were convinced that Buddhists really did believe in a 'self'. The Buddha was commonly depicted as a divine being. Olcott's Catechism was robust and accurate in depicting the Buddha as human and in describing the Buddhist view of "personhood" as an amalgam of accidents 7 Olcott also gained a reputation as a healer, starting on 29 August 1882 when he used his mystical gifts to heal a paralyzed man. He became so popular as a healer that he was overwhelmed by requests, and after about a year declared that the "Masters" had asked him not to exercise this gift anymore. In 1884, following a clash between Catholics and Buddhists in Colombo, Olcott was sent to London to demand reparation, thus acting as a mediator between East and West. In London, he secured a guarantee of religious freedom for Buddhists and recognition of the Buddha's birthday from colonial officials.

Olcott's Buddhism both responded to the criticism of Christian missionaries and was consciously shaped by Protestant Christianity. For Olcott, there was no contradiction in being a Theosophist and a Buddhist, or a Theosophist and a Hindu since what he taught was perennial philosophy. Thus, while Theosophy did represent a primary identity, this did not preclude members from also identifying with other, equally all embracing, world views.

Later Career

On frequent return visits to the Theosophical Society's headquarters in India, Olcott helped to establish schools for Dalits (untouchables) and a Hindu Young Men's Association to mirror the Buddhist Young Men's Association. He also pioneered unity between different Buddhist communities. Traveling to Burma and to Japan he advocated the formation of a World Buddhist League. When the World Buddhist Fellowship was established in 1950, it adopted Olcott's flag as its emblem. In Olcott died in India on After his death, the leadership of the society devolved onto the shoulders of Blavatsky's protege Annie Besant.

In 1890 having recovered her health, Blavatsky again involved herself in the Theosophy Society, establishing what she called an inner circle, of which Olcott was not a member. He did not approve of her renewed involvement, and following her death in 1891, he also became estranged from one of her confidantes, William Quan Judge (1851 - 1896) who was accused of forging messages from the Masters. In 1895, a schism, with Judge leading what became known simply as the Theosophical Society based in the USA, and Olcott and Annie Besant continuing to lead the Theosophical Society-Adyar. Olcott died in 1907 (February 17) while in India. He is still fondly remembered by many Sri Lankans and especially the students of these schools who have gone on to become Prime Ministers and industry leaders of the country. Olcott Road, a major street in Colombo, has been named after him. A statue of him has been built in Madras, India.


  • Sorgho and Imphee, the Chinese and African sugar canes. NY: A. O. Moore, 1857 Sorgho and Imphee retrieved 08 May 2007
  • Outlines of the first course of Yale agricultural lectures. NY: C. M. Saxton, Barker & Co., 1860
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  • Human Spirits and Elementaries. Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Office, 1875
  • People from the other world. Hartford, CT: American Publishing Co, 1875
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  1. Isis Unveiled. facsimile ed, (Pasadena, Calif.: Theosophical University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0911500035)
  2. ↑ Margaret Conger, "Preface and Introduction to the Combined Chronology," Theosophical Society Preface and Introduction to the Combined Chronology Retrieved May 8, 2007
  3. ↑ Richard Gombrich. Precept and Practice. (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1971. ISBN 9780198265252), 54
  4. Catechism, 25
  5. Catechism, 26
  6. Catechism, 3
  7. Catechism, 26


  • Dharmapala, Anagarika, and Ananda W. P. Guruge. Return to Righteousness, A Collection of Speeches, Essays, and Letters of the Anagarika Dharmapala. Colombo?: Anagarika Dharmapala Birth Centenary Committee, Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, Ceylon, 1965.
  • Doyle, Arthur Conan. The History of Spiritualism. New York: G.H. Doran, Co. Volume 1: 1926 retrieved 08 May 2007 and Volume 2: 1926retrieved 08 May 2007
  • Gombrich, Richard. Precept and Practice. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1971. ISBN 9780198265252
  • Guruge, Ananda W. P. Free at Last in Paradise. Bloomington: Authuhouse, 1998. ISBN 9781585001361
  • Guruge, Ananda W. P. From the Living Fountains of Buddhism: Sri Lankan Support to Pioneering Western Orientalists. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 1984
  • Lysy, Anton and Pazdioch, Martin The Remarkable Life of Henry Steel Olcott (DVD)Wheaton, Ill: Quest, 2007 ISBN 9780835695213
  • Motwani, Kewal. Colonel H. S. Olcott, a forgotten page in American history. Madras: Ganesh, 1955.
  • Murphet, Howard: Hammer on the mountain, life of Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1907). Wheaton, ILL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972. ISBN 0835602109
  • Prothero, Stephen R. The White Buddhist, the Asian odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. ISBN 0253330149
  • Prothero, Stephen. 1995. Henry Steel Olcott and "Protestant Buddhism." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 63 (2): 281.
  • Williams, Gertrude Marvin. Priestess of the Occult, Madame Blavatsky. NY: A. A. Knopf, 1946.

External links

All links retrieved December 18, 2017.

  • The White Buddhist: Henry Steel Olcott and the Sinhalese Buddhist Revival By Stephen Prothero
  • Articles by and relating to H.S. Olcott
  • Articles on Olcott
  • Works by Henry Steel Olcott. Project Gutenberg