What is White Lotus Day?

Katinka Hesselink 2007

White Lotusday is a holiday that theosophists celebrate all over the world on May eighth - regardless of theosophical affiliation. H.P. Blavatsky died on may 8th 1891 - now 116 years ago.

Blavatsky's will mentioned that in her memory two texts should be read: the Bhagavad Gita and Light of Asia. The latter text is about the life of Buddha. After HPB's death, Colonell Olcott, then president and co-founder of the Theosophical Society, felt that her death should be comemorated each year under the name 'White Lotus-day'.  (1) It's unclear how the tradition started to also read a portion from 'The Voice of the Silence'. It is clear that this classic work by Blavatsky (written 1889, two years before she passed) is worth reading. The three texts are of a similar type and fit well together. 

It is clear that the Theosophical Movement would have looked very different without H.P. Blavatsky. Some would even say that without her, it could not have had it's present shape. For instance: it was working with Blavatsky that convinced Olcott that such a thing as theosophy existed, that there was more than spiritualism and eventually to move to India. That was a rather risky business financially, obviously. Blavatsky also laid the foundation of the doctrines we now tend to call 'theosophy'. She edited the first theosophical magazine (The Theosophist) in a completely non-sectarian manner. Her opponents got a chance to publish their stuff alongside material on all known Indian religions. 

Still, Blavatsky did not do all this alone. Col. Olcott may not have written as much as she did, but he was a tireless healer, lecturer and traveler and he laid the foundation of a democratic organisation - which still persists in the Theosophical Society Adyar. It is partly thanks to him that Buddhism in Sri Lanka survived and could be spread to the west. 

As far as teachings go - even in Blavatsky's time she wasn't the only one writing about theosophy. In colabaration and discussion with T. Subba Row the teachings developed - what was theosophy about and which aspects of the Universal Wisdom would be brought into the world? The lines these two set out were really only broadened with Jiddu Krishnamurti 's teachings a few decades later. Subba Row and H.P. Blavatsky took on a broad field and wrote about it. We should not forget the Mahatmas and Sinnett's explanation of their letters. William Quan Judge wrote excellent articles and books about theosophy. His works are often more practical and less abstract than the work by Blavatsky and Subba Row. All in all Jiddu Krishnamurti stressed the internal side more. Blavatsky had lots to discuss while Krishnamurti limited himself to what could help people attain spiritual transformation. Blavatsky's Voice of the Silence is also about that subject, but from an obviously different perspective.

We should be thankful to Blavatsky for the literature she created  and for the inspiration she still gives. I would like to close with a quote from the first issue of Lucifer, her second magazine on its purpose:

H.P. Blavatsky Coll.Wr. IX, p. 8
Free discussion, temperate, candid, undefiled by personalities and animosity, is, we think, the most efficacious means of getting rid of error and bringing out the underlying truth [of different religions, philosophies and opinions etc.]
[Idem, p. 9]:
... precisely because Lucifer is a theosophical magazine, it opens its columns to writers whose views of life and things may not only slightly differ from its own, but even be diametrically opposed to the opinion of the editors.
[Idem, p. 10]:
One ever learns more from one's enemies than from one's friends.


(1) Old Diary Leaves, vol. 4, p. 452-53