Buddhism and Theosophy

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Theosophical teachings have borrowed some concepts and terms from Buddhism. Some theosophists like Blavatsky, Helena Roerich and Henry Steel Olcott also became Buddhists. Henry Steel Olcott helped shape the design of the Buddhist flag. Tibetan Buddhism was popularised in the West at first mainly by Theosophists including Evans-Wentz and Alexandra David-Neel.

Blavatsky sometimes compared Theosophy to Mahayana Buddhism. In The Key to Theosophy she writes:

But the schools of the Northern Buddhist Church ... teach all that is now called Theosophical doctrines, because they form part of the knowledge of the initiates...[1]

Theosophical revival of Buddhism

The Buddhists and Colonel Olcott in Colombo (1883)

In 1880 Henry Steel Olcott, President-Founder of the Theosophical Society began to build up the Buddhist Educational Movement in Ceylon. In 1880 there were only two schools in Ceylon managed by the Buddhists. Due to the efforts of Olcott the number rose to 205 schools and four colleges in 1907 (Ananda College in Colombo, Mahinda College in Galle, Dharmaraja College in Kandy and Maliyadeva College in Kurunegala). Thus began the great Buddhist revival in Ceylon. Col. Olcott also represented the Buddhist cause to the British government, and found redress for the restrictions imposed against Buddhists, such as the prohibition of processions, Buddhist schools, the improved financial administration of temple properties, and so on.[2]

The Books of Kiu-te

Blavatsky claimed to have access to a popularised version of Buddhist secret doctrines, a fourteen volume esoteric commentary, "worked out from one small archaic folio, the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World", as well as secret texts she termed Kiu-Te.[3] Buddhologist David Reigle identified Blavatsky's "Books of Kiu-te" as the Tantra section of the Tibetan Buddhist canon.[4]

Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup (a translator of The Tibetan Book of the Dead) believed that Blavatsky had "intimate acquaintance with the higher lamaistic teachings".[5][upper-alpha 1]

Voice of the Silence

Zen Buddhism scholar D. T. Suzuki wrote about Blavatsky's book The Voice of the Silence: "Undoubtedly Madame Blavatsky had in some way been initiated into the deeper side of Mahayana teaching and then gave out what she deemed wise to the Western world..."[7] He also commented: "Here is the real Mahayana Buddhism."[8]

In 1927 the staff of the 9th Panchen Lama Tub-ten Cho-gyi Nyima helped Theosophists put out the "Peking Edition" of The Voice of the Silence.[9]

The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso wrote in the preface to the 1989 Centenary edition of The Voice of the Silence, "I believe that this book has strongly influenced many sincere seekers and aspirants to the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva Path." [10]

See also



  1. "The Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup was not only knowledgeable of the Secret Doctrine, like Evans-Wentz, but in a position to confirm the genuineness of some of HPB's statements regarding esoteric Tibetan teachings."[6]


  1. Blavatsky, H.P. (11 August 2007). The Key to Theosophy. United States of America: Theosophy Trust. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-9793205-2-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Revival of Buddhism in Ceylon.
  3. Blavatsky H.P. The Secret Doctrine, Vol.3, p. 405.
  4. See Reigle, David Books of Kiu-Te, or The Tibetan Buddhist Tantras. San Diego: Wizard's Bookshelf, 1983.
  5. See The Tibetan Book of the Dead, p. 7 footnote.
  6. Sanat, Aryel Transformation: Vital essence of HPB's Secret Doctrine. Part 2. – Note 24.
  7. Eastern Buddhist, old series, 5:377
  8. The Middle Way, August 1965, p. 90.
  9. Blavatsky H.P. The Voice of the Silence, ed. Alice Cleather and Basil Crump. Peking: Chinese Buddhist Research Society, 1927. – P. 113
  10. Blavatsky Helena The Voice of the Silence. Centenary edition. Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, 1989. // Foreword by the 14th Dalai Lama.

Further reading

  • Leadbeater, C. W. (1914). The Smaller Buddhist Catechism. Jinarajadasa, C. (tr.). Theosophical Pub. House.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Olcott, H. S. (1881). A Buddhist Catechism. Madras.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Olcott, H. S. The Golden Rules of Buddhism.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Price, Leslie (15 June 2003). "Madame Blavatsky, Buddhism and Tibet" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Prothero, Stephen (Fall 1996). "The White Buddhist: Henry Steel Olcott and the Sinhalese Buddhist Revival". Tricycle. pp. 13–19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Reigle, David (1999). Blavatsky's Secret Books. Wizards Bookshelf. ISBN 978-0913510766.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Reigle, David (Spring 2000). "Theosophy and Buddhism". Fohat. pp. 4–17, 22–23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Roerich, Helena. Foundations of Buddhism.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sinnett, A. P. (1885). Esoteric Buddhism. London: Chapman and Hall Ltd.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Spierenburg, Henk J. The Buddhism of H.P. Blavatsky. ISBN 0-913004-68-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>