The Protestant Missions — June 9, 2011 at 12:53 am

Colonel Olcott, the American Bodhisattva, visits Japan!


Henry Steel Olcott Almost synchronous with Mr. Wishard’s visit was that of another American — Colonel Olcott, the theosophist. He had been invited by the Buddhists, who, in alarm at the progress being made by Christianity, were ready to accept help from any source. A speech made by Mr. Nagouchi, the man through whom the invitation had been conveyed to Colonel Olcott, shows the view that many Buddhists took of the situation. After speaking of the changes that had brought to Japan railroads, electric lights, newspapers, steam presses, sewing machines, whiskey, and cigarettes, he bemoaned the fact that many who were once interested in Buddhism gave themselves now to the study of physics, photography, biology, astronomy, geology, metaphysics, materialism, and Christianity, — subjects that now formed the dominant topics of thought and conversation. Much of this sad upheaval was to be laid at the door of the missionaries, who had met the desire of people for Western knowledge by establishing schools in all parts of the land. Moreover, whereas the Emperors were formerly warm supporters of Buddhism, so that many princes and princesses entered the monasteries, the present attitude of the Government was one of indifference, and Imperial contributions to the temples were now given only for the purpose of preserving the Imperial tombs. Most of the priests were lazy, wasting their time in amusements, repeating prayers whose meaning they did not know, and by worthless lives alienating the believers. “The different Buddhist sects,” he said,” must be limited, and every priest must be educated. To rescue our Buddhists from the thralldom of Western vices we have thought of only one way. It is to obtain the unselfish help of colonel Olcott, the reformer of religion. All Japanese Buddhists are now awaiting his visit, and they have named him the Bodhisattva of the Nineteenth Century.”

Disappointed in the Buddhists of Japan

When Colonel Olcott arrived he was received with the greatest enthusiasm. Temples and houses were decorated in his honor; in the cities he visited he was met by committees of priests and leading citizens; and at first large crowds went to hear his addresses. The enthusiasm for the American Bodhisattva was short-lived. For some reason or other the series of lectures was interrupted, and Colonel Olcott soon left the country. It was reported that he was disappointed in the Buddhists of Japan; it is certain that they were disappointed in him.

More on Colonel Olcott here

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